Mutter and Orkis warm up a rainy night in Chicago with communicative artistry

March 31, 2017
Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis performed Wednesday night at Symphony Center. File photo: Dario Acosta

Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis performed Wednesday night at Symphony Center. File photo: Dario Acosta

The cold and rainy weather likely contributed to the rather light turnout for Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recital Wednesday night at Symphony Center. Yet the communicative ardor of her playing–and that of her excellent pianist Lambert Orkis–more than warmed up the half-empty hall.

Clad in her trademark strapless gown–lemon-colored on this occasion with matching shoes–the popular German violinist has been a recital team with the American pianist for decades and rarely will one find a more symbiotic and evenly matched musical duo.

That cordial relationship was evident early in the evening. Before playing a Mozart sonata, Mutter helpfully rearranged the pianist’s tangled tuxedo tail on the piano bench, an amusing bit of business that became a running joke throughout the evening.

Mutter freshened up traditional program chronology by prefacing her Mozart with a contemporary work by Sebastian Currier, one of our finest composers. She has commissioned works from Currier and, though the American composer’s Clockwork was not written for her, she has since adopted this 1999 work.

As with most of his music, Currier finds a variety of compelling sonorities and intriguing working out of material in this 20-minute single movement. As the title suggests, there is a mechanized recurring motif; the piano leads off with a quirky, tick-tock ostinato, as the violin enters with hushed rustling tremolos that hover on the edge of audibility. There are passages of breakout agitation and spare reflection in which the violin ascends ever higher, before an emphatic final section and return to the “lifeless” opening of mechanized unease.

The repetition of material takes one turn around the block too many but Clockwork is largely crafted with Currier’s usual skill and discerning ear for striking textures. Mutter and Orkis gave his music consummate advocacy with a widely terraced array of hues and dynamics–maintaining sharp concentration despite the panoply of unmuffled coughs at the quietest moments. Currier was in the house and Mutter called him to the stage to share in the applause. When will the CSO commission a work from this greatly gifted composer?

The majority of Mozart’s violin sonatas are juvenilia but his Violin Sonata in A major, K.526, is a late work and among his finest instrumental efforts.

Adopting a lighter bow arm, Mutter kept the music in Classical scale. Her long partnership with Orkis was evident in the conversational ease of their playing. Mutter’s tender expression conveyed the inward introspection of the Andante with a trace of melancholy, dexterously avoiding gilding the lily. Orkis’s stylish keyboard work was fully equal to his glamorous colleague and the cheerful vivacity of the finale was wholly delightful, the contrasting episodes given their due yet kept within Rococo parameters.

Apart from his Roman triptych of souped-up sonic blockbusters, much of Ottorino Respighi’s prolific output remain largely overlooked. That includes his melodic Violin Sonata in B minor, which Mutter and Orkis showed to be an unjustly neglected work.

The violinist was wholly in synch with the pensive theme of the opening movement, given with lovely, shimmering tone, and the duo’s ardent playing built inexorably to a climax before the coda. Mutter brought heartfelt expression to the Andante with equally searching playing by Orkis. Respighi mines surprising riches in the Passacaglia finale and the musicians put across both the beguiling lyricism and impassioned agitation with full fervor.

Wednesday’s program was not a showily virtuosic one, though the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso provided the requisite brilliance to close the evening. Others may storm through Saint-Saëns’ fiddle showpiece at faster speeds and with more blistering bravura. But Mutter scored in conveying the varied moods and playful spirit, from the silvery delicacy of the opening section to the fiery finale, the violinist showing a still-formidable technique.

With CDs to sign in the ballroom, one encore would have to suffice. Mutter closed the evening with the Heifetz transcription of Tchaikovsky’s nostalgic Melodie, rendered with the tonal elegance and sweet-sad purity that show this artist at her most endearing.

The program will be repeated 2 p.m. Sunday at Carnegie Hall in New York.

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