Masur and the LPO – 28th April

Two Romances for violin and orchestra – in G, Op.40 & F, Op.50
Sur le même accord – Nocturne for violin and orchestra [world premiere]
La mer – three symphonic sketches
La valse – choreographic poem

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 28 April, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

A concert notable for a Dutilleux première and confirmation that Kurt Masur appears restored to full health.This was a ’black-tie’ evening – the 35-minute interval seemed a bit unfair on those not involved in reception-attending; even so the ’ordinary’ concert-goers applauded long and hard.

Beethoven’s Romances (the one in F erroneously described as Op.41 in the programme) found Anne-Sophie Mutter digging deep into the strings to the detriment of both intonation and tone. Masur’s flowing tempos and light accompaniment were admirable; Mutter’s vibrato-ridden, over-sweet expression, and extremes of dynamics and character, swamped the music’s innocence.

Notwithstanding that Masur is just a few months away from becoming Music Director of the French National Orchestra, he is not especially associated with French music. If only by a few degrees, Masur didn’t get under the skin of either La mer or La valse. The former was thoughtfully balanced and nuanced, sometimes fluid, sometimes literal. Masur’s strictness did yield a sense of impressionism and suggestiveness but his tight rein vied phrasal seductiveness with militaristic precision. Although Masur’s concern for detail was lucidly reproduced by the LPO, more visceral attack was needed (especially in the last movement, the ad-lib brass fanfares played); La mer also requires something more elemental, dissolving and nurtured.

La valse (1920) – from sinister opening to Viennese swirl to annihilation – is surely a metaphor for the destruction caused by the First World War. Masur’s obvious affection for the piece drew some finely honed playing and beguiling shaping. Masur is too intelligent a musician to play Ravel’s masterpiece as a mere showpiece; yet, the killer punch that signals the collapse of the waltz lacked vehemence, and the desperate final pages were without frenzy.

A new work by Henri Dutilleux is an event. He is now halfway through his ninth decade. ’On the same chord’ demonstrates that his compositional vitality and elegant craftsmanship are undiminished. Here Mutter could be herself in this piece written for her, one notable for its translucent soundworld and spectral vigour – nocturnal indeed. The violin solo is equal with the orchestra, which is fairly standard in numbers – two each of woodwind, horns, trumpets and trombones, one tuba and harp, and enough percussion for three players plus timpani and strings.

As ever with the meticulous Frenchman, every note, colour and inflection is significant. Here one perceives a distillation of his art. The language is recognisably his in this 8-minute work (11 or 12 had been anticipated) but there’s now a paring-down to essentials. The solo violin introduces, pizzicato, the six notes of the chord; linear presentation becomes vertical as the chord is used harmonically through slow-fast divisions to a short, rapid coda.

Dutilleux’s compression of episodes leaves the listener wanting to relish the piece again; blink and you’ll miss something. Yet a first hearing immediately suggests Sur le même accord as a gem of the contemporary violin/orchestra repertoire, one that abounds in incident – fleet, iridescent and lyrically intense (a suggestion of Berg’s concerto at one point). Hopefully Mutter will record it – perhaps to go with the concerto that André Previn has recently written for her and the one Pierre Boulez has promised.

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