Mutter and Orkis in a 25th Anniversary Gambol

United StatesUnited States Lutoslawski, Schubert, Penderecki, Previn, Saint-Saëns: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Lambert Orkis (piano). Carnegie Hall, New York City. 14.12.2013 (DS)

Lutoslawski: Partita for Violin and Piano (1984)
Schubert: Fantasie for Piano and Violin in C Major, D. 934 (1827)
Penderecki: La Follia for Solo Violin (2013; World Premiere)
Previn: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 (2011; World Premiere)
Saint-Saëns: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75


For the second encore to their 25th anniversary performance at Carnegie Hall, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis played Dvorak’s entertaining and folksy Humoresque. (The first encore was Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 1.) As they gamboled through this little piece with careless perfection, it was hard to believe that a full two hours of repertoire had passed so quickly. Still enraptured by Mutter’s sapphire blue dress and yellow-tinted violin as if she had only just come out on stage, I scrambled to hold on to the memories of their exhilarating Lutoslawki and their mellifluous Saint-Saëns.

Mutter and Orkis play as we imagine the unseen happy endings of fairy tales. They finish each other’s sentences and exclaim or retreat in harmonious balance, as was so evident in the Schubert Fantasie. Even when the one goes silent to allow for the other’s solo (as Mutter does for Orkis in the Andantino movement), active listening ensues. They do not abandon or try to outdo each other. Mutter’s spotless spiccato—which, at pianissimo, bounces off barely a handful of bow hairs—is never drowned out by the piano’s wooden mallets.

Of all the works from the evening, the most formulaic was Saint-Saëns Sonata in D minor. Throughout, not only were tempos, dynamics, and phrasing all shown to their greatest advantage, but the duo’s delivery revealed a kind of joyful singing to one another. In contrast, the most unusual experiment in form was Lutoslawski’s Partita for Violin and Piano. Mutter’s powerful strength and intuition when it comes to playing contemporary repertoire crystallized, and Orkis proved the perceptive partner by carrying her extravagant modernist violin campaign with light ease and unflagging care.

Appropriate to Mutter’s style, two world premieres graced the program. Firstly, the pair’s nimble wit poured forth in the lighter-side Second Sonata written by Andre Previn. Mutter’s violin gushed sweetly throughout while Orkis teased the piano in more lounge-like characteristics. It was a pleasant piece if lacking somewhat in depth. At times, they smiled widely in particularly gay and diverting passages. But then, Mutter’s independence revealed itself in the world premiere of Penderecki’s La Follia for solo violin (notably, the only work for which Mutter needed to use the score). A technical challenge that also invited a nearly savage wildness in interpretation, La Follia adds itself to Mutter’s ever-growing list of contemporary commissions—an invaluable legacy to the canons of composition.

As each work came to a close, Mutter turned to smile and nod graciously to each corner of the hall. Orkis left the stage, beside her, with an understated comfortable glee. The aura of intimacy trickled out behind them. They had honestly revealed their intricate and lasting relationship—to each other and to the music. And they demonstrated that happy endings aren’t just made of love and passion; they are as much a matter of dedication and untiring mutual respect.

Daniele Sahr