Korngold
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Tchaikovsky *
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra *
André Previn

Tchaikovsky recorded September 2003 in the Musikverein, Vienna; Korngold recorded October 2003, Abbey Road Studio One, London
CD No: DG 474 8742
Duration: 59 minutes
Reviewed: November 2004
Two violin concertos in the same key and even designated with the same opus number. The Tchaikovsky is a live performance (a composite of more than one, presumably, as occasional editing is noticeable), and the brief orchestral introduction does not bode well: the strings, silky-smooth they may be, aren’t quite settled, and the oboist swallows a note. When Mutter enters it is with moulded, rich-toned phrasing; a few seconds later she is dazzling us with speed and lacerating attack. In an interview in the booklet, she says we’ll either love or hate her approach. Actually, neither. One sometimes admires but is cowed to dutiful listening, and the contrasts of tempo, timbre and moods that occur in such short spaces of time are musically unsettling.
And so it remains throughout the work. Mutter’s is terrific playing, as such, but Tchaikovsky doesn’t get much of a look in. The more innate response belongs to Previn who draws some considered expression and blends from the VPO. Mutter does, on occasions, enter into the civilised, rather classical world that Tchaikovsky writes within, but there’s also a dominance that rides roughshod over the more refined aspects of the music. She does, though, make a convincing case for the work’s real weak spot, the first-movement cadenza, which can seem trite, and which here rings out with steely passion. However, the ‘Canzonetta’ isn’t artless enough, and the finale (the ‘usual’ cuts observed) is spiky rather than effervescent, with the slower sections attacked ruthlessly and, frankly, with some hammy gestures. An individual performance, certainly, one sometimes a parade of violinistic clichés, which are not for loving or hating but for regretting. Applause is excised.
The studio recording of the Korngold is altogether more liveable with and well recorded too (unlike this team’s account of Bernstein’s Serenade also recorded at Abbey Road). With such a sympathetic Korngoldian as Previn conducting, the orchestral writing is notably luminous. Mutter, too closely recorded (so too in the Tchaikovsky) can at least apply her method more wholesomely to this work, her intensity at-one with the music, her sweeping gestures and visceral attack straining every last drop of emotion from this wonderful score.

 

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