Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 477 7165.

A few days before this rerelease arrived, a friend and I were discussing how quickly record companies and the public tend to forget past recording stars.  In particular, we were talking about the conducting icons of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, people like Solti, Bernstein, and Karajan. Then the Beethoven Violin Concerto from Karajan and his young protégé at the time, Anne-Sophie Mutter, showed up, with a note from DG saying it is but one in a reissue of several dozen Karajan recordings they're re-releasing.  So much for studios not caring.

DG originally released this one in 1979, Ms. Mutter's second recording. It is quite good. It is also a bit different in that it is quite slow. The booklet insert tells us that the slow basic tempi were her own choices and not forced upon her by Karajan. Fair enough. But given that Karajan was always prone to slowing down the tempo, providing a little more glamour in the process, and that Karajan had a direct influence on Ms. Mutter's career, I would think that maybe, just maybe, the conductor had some hand in the decision. In any case, the performance is lovely, not unlike my own favorite recording from a few years earlier with Szeryng, Haitink, and the Concertgebouw on Philips. Mutter's interpretation is graceful and elegant, if a tad lax compared to say, Heifetz. Still, it's most beautiful, if not for a first recommendation, certainly for an adjunct reference.

DG's sound is typical of the era--full and warm--and in its new remastering it sounds more dynamic than ever, with excellent punch throughout. But the midrange, as smooth as it is, is a bit murky and foggy, not quite as revealing as it could be. A quick comparison to the aforementioned Szeryng/Philips recording demonstrates what is lacking here. Nevertheless, the soft acoustic tends to flatter Ms. Mutter's reading, both sounding lush and leisurely. I'm glad I got to hear the disc again.

One last thing: This new mid-price reissue comes in a Digipak. Usually, I hate Digipaks. I mean, if you break one of the plastic center spines, what do you do? You've can't just replace the jewel box. But in this case, the Digipak duplicates the artwork of the original LP, and with its glossy cover, it looks really nice. And to carry the theme further, the disc itself is silk-screened to look like a miniature LP. So I can live with the Digipak in exchange for the package's appearance.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa