Anne-Sophie Mutter & Lambert Orkis at Carnegie Hall: Mozart

Sonatas for piano and violin – in A, K305; in C, K303; in E flat, K380; in G, K301; in B flat, K378

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin) & Lambert Orkis (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 15 November, 2006
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

The first of three Carnegie Hall recitals by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis traversing Mozart’s sonatas for piano and violin. The cycle continues on Friday, 17 November, at 8 p.m. and concludes on Sunday, 19 November, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

The recital began with performances of two sonatas dating from 1778, neither of which generated very much excitement. In the opening movement of the A major sonata, the most idiomatic and interesting playing came from Orkis, and in the second movement Theme and Variations, which gives the piano at least as prominent a role as the violin, it was Orkis’s turn to shine again. After he and Mutter delicately introduced the theme, he gave a graceful performance of the solo piano first variation. It was not until the fourth variation that Mutter’s violin got to take the lead role, and even there, Mozart gives the pianist a brief solo passage just before the closing cadence. The partnership was close in spirit in the darker fifth variation and the bright final variation, closing the work with a delicate touch.

Mutter and Orkis took the opening Adagio of the C major sonata in rather stately fashion, with the piano sounding brightly above Mutter’s subdued tone and then leading the transition to Molto allegro with Orkis continuing to take the more prominent role in providing dynamic variation. There was little singing here, the music often having a halting quality rather than seeming to flow of its own accord. The sonata-form second movement – mislabelled by Mozart as a minuet – provided some lovely moments, including the concluding passage in which the movement wound down rapidly to a quiet close.

Mutter and Orkis did better in the E flat sonata despite a breakneck tempo in the opening movement that made the rapid bowing and piano runs showier but failed to capture fully the music’s underlying elegance and delicacy. Mutter’s playing, which had been rather cold and lacking in real beauty of tone up to this point in the evening, warmed up noticeably in the Andante con moto second movement, but it was only in the finale that Mutter and Orkis began to throw off sparks. Here the piano and violin were equal partners, alternately taking the lead and offering the other support, but never fading into the background. This movement was played with real gusto, with lots of dynamic and rhythmic variation that kept it interesting and impelled the music forward from start to finish.

Following the interval, Mutter and Orkis picked up where they had left off, giving a sparkling performance of the G major sonata – another of the 1778 group. Adopting a brisk tempo, Mutter stated the first movement’s flowing principal theme with a sweet tone and took turns with Orkis in ornamenting the thematic material. Together, in equal partnership, they skilfully negotiated the movement’s harmonic changes before returning to its initial theme. In the second movement, Allegro, it is the piano that first states the sunny theme, but both players have an equal role in its ornamentation and development. The trill-laden G minor interlude was beautifully played, and Mutter and Orkis gave the repetition of the opening thematic material added delicacy and colour, sustaining the movement’s depth of interest through its subtle ending.

The programme concluded with the B flat sonata. Mutter really dug into her instrument here, the violin’s expressive power fully matching that of the piano and reflecting the greater harmonic complexity of this sonata (as contrasted with those played earlier). She maintained a light, delicate touch when appropriate, however. In the second movement, marked Andantino sostenuto e cantabile, Mutter and Orkis each played varying roles as the music progressed, bouncing thematic material from one to another, then alternately taking the lead with the other sometimes providing little more than a ‘rum-ti-tum’. The movement’s concluding section, introduced by a series of chords on both instruments, was very well played, bringing back the opening theme for a gentle and final reprise. The stirring rondo-finale gave both players ample opportunity to show off – and they did. The movement was replete with trills, syncopation, rapid piano runs, violin triplets, an even a pizzicato passage, all carried off in dazzling fashion. A most satisfying ending to an evening that had begun rather inauspiciously.

Mutter and Orkis played two Mozart minuets as encores, including a contemplative and ethereally beautiful performance of the second movement of the E minor sonata, K304, Mutter’s avowed favourite – providing a tantalizing preview of the final recital of the cycle.

  • The cycle continues on 17 November at 8 p.m. and concludes on 19 November at 2 p.m.
  • Carnegie Hall

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