Anne-Sophie Mutter, ASM35: The Complete Musician, Highlights (CD review)

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; various artists, conductors, and orchestras. DG 477 9730 (2-disc set).

This CD set shows my age. I continue to think of German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as a young, new musician, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw the title of this new collection, Anne-Sophie Mutter, ASM35: The Complete Musician.  "ASM 35"? The set celebrates Ms. Mutter's thirty-fifth year as a performing musician, making her stage debut with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1976, her debut at the Salzburg Festival and the English Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim in 1977, and her recording debut with Karajan on DG in 1978. Remarkable how time flies.

The present two-disc set is actually a highlights collection drawn from a huge forty-disc limited-edition box set of Ms. Mutter's DG recordings. Playing with a variety of accompanists, conductors, and orchestras, the set spans her career more-or-less chronologically from 1974 to 2008. Of course, most of the pieces are merely segments of larger works, in many cases single movements of longer concertos. Still, it gives you an idea of her accomplishments, her artistry, her style, her virtuosity, and both her passionate and poetic moods. Let me mention a couple of things that stand out for me.

The first notable item on disc one (after a brief Prokofiev solo from 1974) is the Allegro from Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3, with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic from 1978, Ms. Mutter's first big hit recording (and one I still have in my own record library). There is not a hint of immaturity about her playing, and Karajan's support is brilliantly sympathetic. Indeed, this is still my favorite Mutter recording of all. Next, she does the Andante from Brahms's Double Concerto with cellist Antonio Meneses, conductor Karajan, and the BPO, from 1983. She makes a perfect partner for Meneses, and the two young performers build the tensions beautifully, if a little slowly, sedately. After that is the finale from Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, also with Karajan and the BPO, this one from 1980.  Here, we find Mutter at her most Romantic, even though there is little sentimentalizing of the music, which displays a lovely bounce and lilt. Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, with James Levine and the Vienna Philharmonic from 1992 comes filled with swagger. Finally, on disc one is a live recording of the third-movement Allegro from Brahms's Violin Concerto, with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic from 1997, which hasn't quite the sweet, lyrical feel of her earlier recording with Karajan but still expresses much joy and satisfaction.

Disc two opens with a live recording from Copenhagen of the "Winter" concerto from The Four Seasons, recorded in 1999. Again, we get a rather soft, Romantic approach to the score, yet it is quite heartfelt, the accompaniment a bit foursquare, and the sound fairly bright and forward. A highlight of the second disc is a sensuously played Gershwin number, "It Ain't Necessarily So," with Ms. Mutter accompanied by Andre Previn on piano. Another live recording comes from Mutter, Masur, and the NY Phil in 2002, this time the Rondo from Beethoven's Violin Concerto. It was, I believe, her second recording of the Beethoven, this one just as lyrically played, if marginally more intensely; too bad about the live sound, though.

The rest of disc two offers mostly live recordings from the 2000's, live apparently being the only way for big companies and big orchestras to record economically anymore. None of it sounds as good as the studio material on the first disc. Anyway, I enjoyed the Allegretto from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto pretty well, recorded in 2008 with Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. It's typically smooth, balmy, and quiet, maybe a little lightweight but certainly lustrous enough.

The earlier studio recordings are, as I've said, for the most part better done than the later live recordings--cleaner, often more realistic in their tonal balance, if not always in their orchestral depth. The later live recordings are closer and brighter, with the faint but unmistakable sense of a hall presence and an audience. Fortunately, there is no applause involved.

There is quite a lot of other material on the two discs as well, too much to go into. Let it suffice to say that if you enjoy Ms. Mutter's usually delicate yet virtuosic approach to music making, you'll like this collection of excerpts. Maybe it will even prompt you to buy one of her discs of complete works, which I suspect is one of the main points of the set.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa