LPO/Mutter – 28 January

Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042
Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 *

Sergey Khachatryan (violin) *

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

Reviewed by: Neil Evans

Reviewed: 28 January, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Dedicated concertgoers were given a little more time last night to fight their way through a bizarre mix of snow, wind and lightning, and buckling transport system. A very civilised 8 o’ clock start at the Royal Festival Hall for the first of three London Philharmonic concerts featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter.

The fact that the concert was over by 9.20 and there was room for the usual 20-minute-plus interval tells you that there was not a lot of music to reward the audience’s heroic efforts to get there or their willingness to cough up for a ticket that could cost up to £35.

Recitals and chamber music concerts can be short – a Schubert song-cycle for example, which is not normally followed by encores, might clock-in at around an hour. But the 50 minutes that constitutes Bach’s two violin concertos and the two-violin concerto is surely short measure. Unless of course you are an admirer of Mutter or a lover of Bach: given this artist-composer combination I suppose quality far outweighs quantity.

That this music is extraordinary there is no doubt and both the ever-glamorous Mutter and the pared-down London Philharmonic played with polish and penetrating conviction throughout. Mutter directed as assuredly as she played, eliciting a strikingly balanced sound from the LPO. Rather than standing out as soloist she seemed determined to blend into an orchestral texture in which plenty of detail was allowed to shine through. It was lovely to hear Catherine Edwards’s beautifully delicate harpsichord playing for example underpinning Mutter’s intricate and innovative ornamentation in the finale of BWV 1042. These were incredibly light readings with none of the overwrought romanticised playing you sometimes get with modern-instrument Bach. That is not to say they weren’t moving. The slow movements in both had Mutter urging the players to really plumb emotional depths.

In the Concerto for two violins, 18-year-old Sergey Khachatryan joined Mutter. Here again she revelled in ensemble work and was keen to share the limelight with the young Armenian. They were exquisite together.

It was a short concert – I just wished the programme had included Bach’s other Double Concerto, the C minor (BWV 1060) for violin and oboe – but credit where it’s due. It’s refreshing to have an all-Bach programme among all the Romantic and twentieth-century works that dominate. And the London Philharmonic did provide a perfect appetiser to its concert by inviting members of the Menuhin School to play Bach’s Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias in a free 50-minute performance for those who got to the Festival Hall earlier. These were astonishingly mature performances. Too many highlights but 14-year-old Gaura Horn really made the piano sing with his spontaneity and deep, instinctive connection to the music.

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