Oslo Philharmonic/Saraste Anne-Sophie Mutter [Roman Carnival … The Wooden Prince … La valse]

Overture, Le carnaval romain, Op.9
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
The Wooden Prince – Suite [arr. Saraste]
La valse – poème choreographique

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 20 May, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Anne-Sophie MutterIn this year of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s 200th-birthday his E minor Violin Concerto is getting quite an airing! Indeed, Anne-Sophie Mutter played it in London back in January; yet, there is an earlier Violin Concerto (in D minor) that is rarely heard. Mutter’s playing was here mannered and rarely persuaded; stern and emotionally shallow.

Lashings of vibrato disfigured Mutter’s opening contribution, producing an uncertian start, before she then launched into an intense and driven reading. The cadenza was dull and the lead-in arpeggios as the orchestra returned lacked subtlety or beauty. The Andante found Mutter forcing her will on the music, her violin (sounding wonderful) not allowed to sing the many glorious phrases. The orchestra came back to life for the finale but without joining the spirit of relentless drive; orchestra and soloist were detached rather than jointly galvanised.

The concert had opened with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture – made up of themes from “Benvenuto Cellini” and here receiving a virtuoso reading with plenty of incidental detail – the second half continuing with music from The Wooden Prince, which Bartók planned as the ballet half of a double-bill with his opera “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”. The ballet concerns the obstructed love between a Prince and Princess. Bartók completed two suites from the complete score, which Saraste has conflated.

The delicacy of the opening (surely inspired by the opening of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”) and heralded a secure, and captivating and narrative performance. Individual contributions were notable, with striking and humorous clarinets and a penetrating cor anglais as part of a colourful realisation.

Ravel’s La valse benefits most from being presented without sentiment. It is a reflection of world post-Great War. Saraste managed to communicate elegance, nostalgia and charm but he missed “a sort of apotheosis of the Vienese Waltz which I [Ravel] saw combined with an impression of a whirling motion leading to death.” The close was orgiastic and hinted at being a danse macabre but was too controlled.

There was an encore: ‘Velkomme Med Aera’ (Welcome with Honour), one of Geirr Tveitt’s 100 Folk Tunes from Hardanger.

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