MSO Gala: Anne-Sophie Mutter

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Published: 16th July, 2018

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Mid-Season Gala on Saturday night opened with an assured account of Stravinsky’s The Fairy Kiss. Conceived for the Ida Rubinstein Dance Company in 1928 this ballet, with a scenario based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is a suite of Tchaikovsky melodies seen through the prism of Stravinsky’s masterful and distinctive orchestration. It is a score of great delicacy and Sir Andrew Davis and the MSO delivered with finesse. Cello, clarinet and harp solos were standout features of this musical hors d’oeuvre.

The star turn of the evening however was the long-awaited Melbourne debut of Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic Concerto for Violin in D major. Mutter has surely performed this work in concerts several hundred times yet what impressed most was the commitment and personal involvement that she invested in the performance. There was never any hint of playing on auto-pilot, with Mutter as engrossed in the MSO’s orchestral tuttis as in her own part, often swivelling round to engage, and at times almost dance along, with the various sections of the orchestra.

From the outset, MSO 2018 Soloist-in-Residence Mutter and her prized Stradivarius shone. An astonishingly wide dynamic range was complemented by a finely nuanced and multi-hued tonal palette, that captivated from the opening rising solo line.  A deft and supple bowing technique produced seamless melodic arches, tinged with judicious portamento and a varied, always well-directed vibrato. Throughout, Mutter reveled in a warmth of tone and unerring sense of pitch that allowed the opening movement’s lyrical narrative to unfold convincingly. The cadenza with its flurry of double stops and harmonics was simply majestic. This is a violinist who is at ease with her place in the violin firmament, one eager to share not so much her irrefutably well-honed technical prowess as the passion and humanity of the music that she clearly feels privileged to play.

Rapturous and sustained applause greeted the first movement, not so much out of ignorance of standard concert-protocol (a long discussion could be had over that one!) as an inability on the part of the capacity audience to restrain from acknowledging just how much they enjoyed Mutter’s playing of the opening movement.

The slow-movement Canzonettaallowed for more of the same as Mutter play with tantalizing delicacy here and a more suitably burnished full-bodied tone there, expressively inflecting her vibrato throughout. In the Finale (Allegro vivacissimo) Mutter took no prisoners, playing more vivacissimothan Allegroand the MSO did well to keep up. Yet this was no empty display of virtuosic élan, but rather an exhilarating conclusion to what was a thoroughly riveting performance, delivered with clarity of intent, passion and elegance. And the audience, once again responded in kind, standing almost as one.

As an encore, Mutter offered a spacious and utterly sublime reading of the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin. This was rarefied playing, for the most part ethereally senza vibrato, and again with heavenly-seamless bowing. The world is indeed a better place for Mutter, and for Bach!

Contemporary music can find no more persuasive an advocate than Anne-Sophie Mutter and after interval the violinist returned to present John Williams’ Markings, a short single-movement work that Mutter commissioned and premiered in 2017. Scored for solo violin, harp and strings it is a luxuriant score, one whose expressive, plangent melodies belie its atonal harmonic cosmos. The consistent warmth and lyricism of Mutter’s tone held listeners, many of whom I imagine switch off in contemporary repertoire, attentive and spellbound throughout.

The MSO then returned full-strength and in full flight to deliver a cogent, well-paced account of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No 3, Sinfonia espansiva. Resplendent brass choirs waltzed along giddily in the opening movement while a more pastoral, string-dominated elegiac calm, albeit one magically tinged by an evocative wordless soprano-baritone vocalise duet,prevailed in the second movement. The concluding movements again revealed Davis and his MSO in fine form.

Melbourne should be grateful that we have such philanthropists as Marc Besen AC and Eva Besen AO who supported Anne-Sophie Mutter in this artistic venture with the MSO, and on this occasion the Besens were rightly honoured as the MSO’s newest Life Members.

The night however belonged to Mutter, her Strad, and Mutter’s unyielding generosity of spirit and artistry. Now if only the powers that be can persuade Mutter to return for a solo recital, (or three) at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.…….

Glenn Riddle reviewed The MSO Gala with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin) at Hamer Hall on June 23, 2018.