Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Concerto for Orchestra
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 17 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Anne-Sophie Mutter’s account of Brahms’s Violin Concerto was a performance by a virtuoso. She was determined to drain the last ounce of everything from Brahms’s music and attacked it with a ferocity which was quite non-Brahmsian but she would temper it with the most exquisite and tender pianissimo imaginable. Thus the first movement veered between intense high drama and loving repose. The slow movement, which was graced by the oboe of David Theodore, was slightly hurried and therefore lost some of its sublime restfulness. The finale proved to be the most successful for here there was a real feel of gypsy-fiddling. Overall, a good performance, but it was Mutter’s Brahms and not Brahms’s Brahms. Ludovic Morlot and the London Philharmonic gave fine support.
The concert started with a decent Prelude to “Lohengrin”, starting with some beautiful string playing – so pure in sound that it was positively Sibelian – Morlot building a strong climax, never allowing the music to get out of hand and become too loud or hard. Indeed, his, and the orchestra’s, restraint was admirable.
Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra was made of stronger, and more thoughtful, stuff. This is a difficult work to bring off for Bartók fills his score with Luftpausen, a mere moment of silence, which many conductors see as breaks in the music and thus the flow is broken. No such problem here for Morlot understood the purpose of these slight intakes of breath and he wove them into the music in such a way that one was never aware of any gap in Bartók’s stream of consciousness. From a mysterious, and very atmospheric, slow introduction to the first movement, full of strange nocturnal sounds, the ensuing fast music burst out with a force of purpose. Alternating these quick sections with the slower recollections of folk-like material is another problem in this work – the finale has similar difficulties – but Morlot rose to the challenge and bonded the disparate elements together with aplomb.
The third, slow, movement inhabited the same world as the Introduction and, again, there was a mystery and fascination in things nocturnal which grew, inevitably, to a big climax which was particularly well-handled. The jokes of the second and forth movements were beautifully placed, and welcome during such an intense performance, given with a light touch and delicious playing from all concerned, especially delightful was the elegance of Gareth Newman’s bassoon and the rudeness of trombonist Lyndon Meredith. Bartók crowns his work with a fugue of epic dimensions, and Morlot chose an almost hell-for-leather tempo which raised the roof. The London Philharmonic excelled in the Bartók and every department covered itself in glory, no more so than the brass section that rang out resplendently, especially in the concluding chorale-like music.