Concert Review

Lutoslawski Partita - Interlude -Chain 2 Bernstein Serenade (after Plato's Symposium).
LSO/Kurt Masur/Anne Sophie Mutter
(violin). Barbican, 5 May 2000.

Rihm: Time Chant, Penderecki: Violin Concerto No 2, Metamorphoses, Ravel: La valse & Strauss: Til Eulenspiegel, Anne-Sophie Mutter, LSO, Masur, Barbican 7 May.

Unused to playing much contemporary music, the challenge and success of Lutoslawski's Chain 2 led to Anne Sophie Mutter's ongoing commitment to the music of her own time, and this series a decade later. So impressed was Lutoslawski (I have a video of him discussing Chain 2 with her) that he wrote Partita to follow, and subsequently orchestrated it. Subsequently Lutoslawski added an orchestral Interlude, and this is how we heard the music at The Barbican.

It is always salutary to hear concertante works live, since the balance is almost invariably falsified in recordings. Few musical pleasures are greater than a sensitive live performance in which the soloist's vulnerability can be seen and heard, focussing attention not by power and volume, but by expressivity which seizes attention and makes the significant line emerge from its surroundings through force of personality and musical command. This dimension used to be written into their scores by the older composers, but now many seem to have their sights upon future broadcasting and recording, where balance problems can seemingly be solved nowadays by the touch of a volume control slider. Lutoslawski had an acute ear for what would actually be heard, even in his aleatoric passages. The original piano accompaniment of the Partita is brought into the orchestrated version and was taken by John Alley. Mutter stood stock still during the linking orchestral Interlude added in 1989.

The three works, joined together in this way, made a very satisfying first half of the concert. They were followed after the interval by a rare hearing of Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, composed in 1953 before Candide. Supplied with a complicated (and doubtfully relevant) Grecian scenario, which easily fills a page of programme notes, it is in effect a five movement concerto with (only slightly) reduced string orchestra plus percussion - six players, but used sparingly. Anne Sophie Mutter brought out its lyrical qualities and Bernstein had seen to it that she was never covered. Very much of its period, and not to everyone's taste, the Serenade is unpretentious, well turned and elegant music which gives great scope for conventional violin playing; I enjoyed encountering it again. Not so the overblown and extravagantly noisy arrangement of Porgy & Bess tunes which brought this rather peculiar, and finally unsatisfying, programme to an end.

The final concert on 7 May brought us two rarities from the early 1990s and two popular orchestral favourites. Anne Sophie Mutter ended her daunting project triumphantly, gathering a huge crowd to hear her in top form and in music which might normally have emptied the concert hall.

The Penderecki concerto, which was receiving its British premiere, is a large scale single movement built from a four-note motiv, pitting violinist against a hostile orchestra as in some of the big traditional concertos, with a cadenza which 'recasts familiar 19th Century violinistic gestures as alienated protest'. To my ears, convention prevailed and, save for an ironic scherzo, it was unengaging, in contrast with the more original concertante work which had preceded it before the interval.

Wolfgang Rihm's subtle Time Chant is song-like, monophonic, elusive music with a small orchestra as 'double' for the soloist. The reduced orchestra of under 30 (a 'bottom-heavy' group of strings based on two basses, with 10 winds & brass, harp and two percussionists) was deployed with unerring precision and imagination. It grew from the composer's memory of 'Anne-Sophie playing high notes with uncommon energy and animation'. Rihm used to be heard fairly regularly on Radio 3, but less so in recent years. Without Mutter's advocacy, what chance would there have been for a large concert audience here to get to know Time Chant, for me a special revelation of the series?

Both of those, together with the equally unknown En reve by Norbert Mouret, can be heard in the recommendable mid-price compendium of Mutter recordings, which also features the first recordings of Lutoslawski's Chain 2 and the orchestral version of Partita [Deutsche Grammophon 463 790-2]. However, this Barbican performance of Time Chant was far sharper and better focused than the American recording with Levine.

In this final concert, the LSO and Masur took their own opportunities to shine with a superb, sensuously swaying account of Ravel's La valse, with less emphasis on the sinister overtones than sometimes, and a marvellous Till which renewed one's amazement at the wealth of subtleties in this early Strauss masterpiece. Final thoughts brought to mind another spectacular marathon, Rostropovich with Rozhdesstvensky survey of cello concertos, two or three per evening, at the RFH some thirty years ago. These Mutter/Masur/LSO concerts will also be talked of well into the new century which was being celebrated in Back to the Future.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger

Return to: Seen&Heard Index  

Return to: Music on the Web