Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Romances. Anne-Sophie Mutter; Kurt Masur, New York Philharmonic. DG 289 471 349-2.

Even a decade or more ago when this disc first appeared, most listeners recognized that Anne-Sophie Mutter was among the world's most-accomplished violinists, a virtuoso of the highest order. But as much as I respect her talent, did DG really have to emphasize her physical attractiveness to such a degree as on this album just to sell her discs? Ms. Mutter's photograph appears no less than nineteen times on the cover jacket, booklet insert, and CD itself. Perhaps it's all part of our cult of star worship. Her name looms in print twice the size of Beethoven's on the front of the album. But I suppose the point is to get as many people involved with classical music as possible, and if the folks at DG want to flaunt Ms. Mutter's natural beauty in addition to her musical talents, more power to them.

In any case, the performance is not all that much better than any of 800 other recordings available of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, and for me it's certainly not as good as the performance she recorded with Herbert von Karajan years earlier. Now, you would expect Ms. Mutter to be strong on lyricism and grace, which she is, and she conveys a requisite power as well. What I didn't expect was her rather lax rendering of the outer movements, particularly the opening section, and an equally indulgent accompaniment from Kurt Masur and his New York players in an interpretation that seems to these ears slow to a fault. Never did I find in this rendering of the piece the soaring grandeur conveyed by artists like Henryk Szeryng (Philips), Jasha Heifetz (RCA), Itzhak Perlman (EMI), Gidon Kremer (Teldec), Vadim Repin (DG), Arthur Grumiaux (PentaTone), and others.

Anne-Sophie Mutter
It seems almost as though Ms. Mutter had gotten older and more set in her ways. The newer recording is not as Romantic as the one with Karajan, and the soloist now seems more serious. Perhaps she was trying to appear more mature? I don't know. Or maybe it was the influence of Karajan on the younger Mutter that made all the difference. Karajan was a pretty dominate character and had a glamorous style of his own, which had to have rubbed off on Ms. Mutter. Masur, on the other hand, always seemed to me rather more prosaic, and it could have been showing in this later DG recording.

Oddly, perhaps, I thought the two Romances for Violin and Orchestra that DG coupled with the Concerto sounded somewhat quicker paced than most I've heard and lost some of their poetry in the process. Too slow, too fast? Go figure.

DG's sound is the high point of the recording. It is clean and clear and very dynamic, perhaps missing a little something in the strongest bass and the most-extended highs but comfortable and realistic, nonetheless. Now, if only the primary performance were more animated I could have gotten behind this release a bit more. However, this is not to say it will disappoint everyone, especially not Ms. Mutter's fans. It's only to suggest that if you already have a favorite recording of the work on your shelf, there is no compelling reason I can suggest for your buying this one, too.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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.

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa