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Choral and Vocal
A GRAND DIVA'S SHIMMERING AND PROVOCATIVE RECITAL IN WEILL HALL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
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CHAMBER REVIEW

Mutter-Orkis Duo in Weill March 2 (J. McNeill Photo)

ADVENTUROUS BACH AND PENDERECKI IN MUTTER-ORKIS WEILL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 2, 2018

German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter returned to Weill Hall March 2 in a recital curiously different than her appearance on the same stage several years ago, and also dissimilar to a recent San Francisco concert with a heroic Respighi Sonata performance.

On a rainy night before 700 fans Ms. Mutter and her wonderful decades-long pianist Lambert Orkis chose a program that was inquisitive but also inconclusive. The latter came at the beginning of each half, all Brahms, and began the short Sonatensatz movement from the F.A.E. Sonata of 1853. It received a lively reading but the violinist was not note perfect, but quickly found her stride and the ending trills were crystalline. All through the recital, save for the final work, she played without score. It was a model opening but passed without being persuasive.

Brahms’ A Major Sonata followed intermission, last heard in Sonoma County years ago in a crackling Joseph Edelberg and Corrick Brown performance in Newman Hall. Here it was a small-scaled reading of the bucolic piece from 1886, one of the composer’s most lyrical and beguiling chamber compositions. Although the andante tranquillo second movement, with the well known pizzicato section, was played briskly, but Ms. Mutter was in no rush to get anywhere, and allowed the enchanting themes to unfold naturally. Mr. Orkis’ adjusted his piano sound, often overly reticent, and never covered the violin part. All was sweet and a little underplayed.

If the Brahms works were somewhat “proforma,” the duo’s choice of the Bach D Minor solo Partita (BWV 1004) and Penderecki’s 2nd Sonata were strikingly adventurous. Bach clearly was on fire when he wrote the five-part dance Partita during the Cöthen years, and Ms. Mutter provided a reading that focused on balance and contrasting tempos rather than the incandescence of Gil Shaham in Weill Hall three years ago.

She was most captivating in the quiet sections, and bow control in soft passages was supreme. She deftly built many small climaxes and though her volume was not large, the violin soared when the music demanded it. Trills and double stops were perfection. The gigue was played wonderfully and of course presto, a reminder of similar speed in a long ago Bach gigue (G Minor Sonata) by Hilary Hahn in Wells. Few musical things give me more instant pleasure than a headlong but always-controlled presto violin dash through a Bach gigue.

Ms. Mutter concluded with an extended sonic climax after four short sculpted phrases, and an extra-long fermata. An immediate standing ovation ensued.

It took courage to end the program with the Penderecki, a knotty piece written in 2000 for Ms. Mutter and Mr. Orkis. The violinist has championed contemporary string music, and in her 32-minute journey through the sprawling music (she used the score) seemingly every facet of violin virtuosity was on display: slashing bow strokes, short motives laced by long dissonant phrases, wispy inserted themes and plentiful small changes in articulation. Mr. Orkis used pedal point in many places, sometimes loud and sometimes soft.

In what must have been a North Coast debut, the Sonata alternates mystery with frenzy, and the violinist was up to every challenge, ending with a long piercing phrase in the stratosphere of the e string. A sonic odyssey indeed.

Applause was long and loud, and generated a single encore of Elman's transcription of Schubert’s Ständchen (Serenade), D. 957. Ms. Mutter played it with exemplary bow mastery in the character of the Schubert “landler,” albeit chock full of double and triple stops, Viennese charm and delicate expressive changes in pitch.