Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 9 February, 2010
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Getting into New York just ahead of a snowstorm, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra brought along a lot of D major in this program introducing its new Music Director. Manfred Honeck began his tenure at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, while concurrently serving as Music Director of Staatsoper Stuttgart, and as Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.
Trained as a violinist, and for ten years a member of the Vienna Philharmonic, Honeck would seem the ideal partner for Anne-Sophie Mutter in Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Honeck immediately set the tone of the performance in the opening tutti, vacillating between extreme lyricism and an almost brutal brawniness, an approach obviously agreed upon by both artists. Especially in the first movement, Mutter was not to be outdone in extremes of interpretation, delicately lingering here, muscularly crunching triple-stops there, not always in the purest of intonations. Tempos fluctuated widely, most strikingly following the cadenza, which started from a near standstill.
The Adagio, on the other hand, was taken at a fairly brisk pace, starting with a beautiful solo from oboist Cynthia Koledo, before finally settling into a more deliberate tempo. Marked Allegro giocoso, the finale bounced along merrily, interrupted only by the traditional brief Luftpause in the third bar, which was repeated every time that motif appeared. Mutter’s wide vibrato was much more suited to this work than it had been to the Mendelssohn a year ago. However, one kept wishing that she wouldn’t try so desperately to find new things, but rather just trust her musical instincts.
The same could be said for Manfred Honeck’s conducting of Mahler’s First Symphony. There were some beautiful moments, to be sure, but these were more like individual events than the results of an organic progression through the piece. Mahler is very precise in his indications of tempo, and often instructs the conductor to proceed from one tempo to the next unnoticeably, as in the first movement. From Honeck these tempo modifications were all too obvious and abrupt, despoiling the composer’s structural master-plan.
The robust second movement suffered from the same treatment. Mahler’s ”Vorwärts” – forward – was taken as a sudden change to a much faster tempo, leaving no room for the subsequent indications of “always forward”, and accelerando. Honeck’s loose adherence to the composer’s indications also extended to dynamic and expressive markings. The third movement’s “pp without crescendo” of the opening section grew to a healthy mezzo-forte, and the middle section, “very simple and plain like a folk tune”, was turned into a highly romanticized interlude.
Balances were problematic throughout, with the piercing brass often overpowering the rest of the orchestra, most painfully so in the finale. When the horns and fourth trombone stood up at the end of the movement it was almost anticlimactic, especially since Honeck didn’t heed Mahler’s Pesante marking either. This was a performance of extremes, without a cohesive thread through the piece. Many textural details emerged, but the overall sound lacked blend as well as color.
Honeck may have tried too hard to make an impact at his Carnegie Hall debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony, pushing the sound instead of eliciting it, forcing the piece ahead instead of letting it unfold. Even the encore, Josef Strauss’s Die Libelle-Polka, was manicured and manipulated. He has incorporated some gestures of Carlos Kleiber into his technique and used them freely here. However, there is a lot more than choreography to exceptional artistry.