Anne-Sophie Mutter Disappoints in Beethoven

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Dvořák: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Robin Ticciati (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London. 9.11.2016. (LB)

Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D major Op.61
Dvořák  – Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’ Op.95

It is not that long since the London Orchestras imposed an embargo on Anne Sophie Mutter because of her apparently exorbitant fees, and that she is back performing in London suggests that either she has reduced her fees, or the London orchestras have capitulated.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the grotesque differential between orchestral musicians in the United Kingdom and a handful of ‘superstar’ soloists, who continue to command more for one performance than the cost of an entire orchestra, endures. Whether this makes economic sense, which I doubt, it certainly does not make musical sense; music making is after all a collaborative endeavor.

In a nearly-full house at the Royal Festival Hall last night Anne-Sophie Mutter appeared centre-stage, in a conservative but populist programme that coupled Beethoven’s commanding Violin Concerto with Dvořák’s Symphony ‘From the New World’.

Mutter’s demeanor created the impression that she was intent on intimidating her relatively youthful accompanist, Robin Ticciati; she stood very close to him, repeatedly thrusting her violin at him, leaving him precious little room for manoeuvre, and an undignified if inadvertent collision seemed a distinct possibility.

That Mutter can play the violin extraordinarily well is beyond doubt, but her excessively mannered performance of Beethoven’s concerto came across more as an exhibition of violinistic prowess than an interpretation, and more premeditated than thoughtful, or creative. Her peculiarly understated and comfortable first entry was to set the tone for the first two movements, in which she embarked on indulgent rhythmic and dynamic fantasies that made an already substantial concerto appear even longer. The Rondo finale, largely free of mannerisms, proved to be the most successful of the concerto’s three movements however, with the orchestra’s contribution both lively and incisive.

Mutter does have her loyal and vocal devotees, many of whom leapt to their feet after her performance, and they were rewarded with an encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor partita, that she dedicated to the victims of the Croydon tram accident.

Conductors occupying the podiums in front of the major orchestras in London are becoming increasingly younger, not necessarily because of a dearth of more experienced or mature conductors, but because of the misguided belief that youth sells. Ilya Musin, the legendary Russian conducting pedagogue, was of the opinion that anyone contemplating conducting an orchestra ought already to benefit from a distinguished performing career as a musician, and I have no doubt that such a strategy would serve music exceedingly well.

Given the opportunity, youthfulness can however infuse musical performance with a refreshing innocence, and Robin Ticciati is one of a crop of young British conductors capitalising on an environment rich in such opportunity. After the interval he stepped onto the podium for a performance of Dvorak’s symphony ‘From the New World’. It is of course a piece of standard repertoire that any orchestra worth its salt could play this in its sleep, neither was it unknown to Ticciati, who has previously recorded it with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (review).

Ticciati’s fleet and impassive concept of Dvorak’s very poignant symphony and the one ingrained in the DNA of the London Philharmonic did not always make for the most integrated of musical journeys, but there were some exquisite moments of individual and collective instrumental virtuosity to savour.

Experience can certainly not be hurried, and given time, I have every confidence that Ticciati will develop the necessary skill and intellectual wherewithal to produce a richer, more complex and idiomatic sound from the sophisticated musical instrument at his disposal.

Leon Bosch

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