Gorgeous Bruch and Brahms from Mutter and Luisi at the Start of their Tour

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Takemitsu, Bruch, Brahms: Philharmonia Zurich / Fabio Luisi (conductor), Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Zurich Opera House, 14.5.2017. (JR)

Anne-Sophie Mutter, München 2015
Anne-Sophie Mutter (c) Monika Höfler

Takemitsu Nostalghia – in memory of Andrei Tarkovsky

Bruch – Violin Concerto No.1 op.26

Brahms – Symphony No.4 op.98

The appearance in Zurich of Anne-Sophie Mutter ensured a full house and a queue for returns.

The orchestra for this concert was the opera house orchestra, known as Philharmonia Zurich; the stage has been specially adapted for symphonic concerts by removing several rows of stalls seats and building an acoustic shell round the orchestra.

Opening the concert, at Mutter’s request, a short piece for solo violin and string orchestra entitled Nostalghia, named after one of Russian film-maker’s Andrei Tarkovsky’s films. (I still fondly remember Tarkovsky’s excellent production of Boris Godunov at Covent Garden in the early 1980s under Claudio Abbado). The piece has nothing, however, to do with the content of the film (an exiled artist pining for his homeland, just as Tarkovsky did), but is a sombre, lyrical elegy, originally composed for Yehudi Menuhin. It’s all rather muted and full of remorse. Mutter has a penchant for modern works, but I have to say this one did little to me. It has no discernible Japanese elements, which might have added some interest; the last dying note is admittedly very beautiful – but that’s not enough.

Mutter played the Bruch for Karajan when she was 18 and over recent decades has rather put the concerto to one side. She emerged onto the stage in a strapless blue figure-hugging gown, clutching one of her Stradivari; there were audible gasps of delight from the audience. She played most of the Bruch with her eyes closed. It was, of course, masterful, note perfect and completely without pretension. Phrasing was always graceful, the tone luscious. In the slow movement, the audience hung onto every note. Luisi was the perfect and sensitive accompanist, injecting plenty of swagger into the finale. Bach, the perfect antidote to romantic Bruch, was served as a soothing encore. The audience were thrilled.

Luisi kept a steady tempo in the Brahms, apart from one instance when, strangely, he almost stopped; otherwise Luisi was a whirlwind on the podium, whipping up quite some electricity. If one had to criticise the interpretation, it was perhaps, at times, more Verdi than Brahms, but this is a work Luisi clearly adores (he rates it above all other Brahms symphonies) and knows very well, having played it often with the Dresdner Staatskapelle. Luisi moulded every section with precision. He cleverly launched straight into the finale to prevent premature applause at the end of the third movement, which ends with a flourish. The opera house orchestra is, of course, no match for the finesse of the Dresdners but they played with enthusiasm, energy and no little skill. The front desks worked exceptionally hard (concert masters Ada Pesch and Bartlomej Niziol deserve special mention), the woodwind (especially Rita Karin Meier on clarinet, Bernhard Heinrichs on oboe, Maurice Heugen on flute) shone even if none of them particularly stood out. The double bass players, amusingly and fittingly, had a degree of visible swing in the allegro giocoso. The closing pages of the Allegro energico e passionato really came to life. There were some uneven passages that, hopefully, will be ironed out as the orchestra now goes on a lengthy tour, with the same programme and soloist. The calibre of this enjoyable programme and performance augurs very well for a successful tour.

Here are the dates and venues – catch them if you can:

Gasteig Munich –  16th May
Brucknerhaus Linz –  17th May
Semperoper Dresden – 18th May
Philharmonie Essen – 20th May
Philharmonie Cologne – 21st May
Philharmonie Luxembourg – 22nd May
Alte Oper Frankfurt – 23rd May

John Rhodes

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