Mutter and her Virtuosi bring an evening of violin fireworks to the Kravis Center

February 04, 2023
By David Fleshler

Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi performed at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach Tuesday night.

The violin took center stage Tuesday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, in a concert that featured one of the instrument’s leading players and no less than six violin concertos.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, who has spent decades as one of the world’s great violinists, brought an ensemble of young string players called the Mutter Virtuosi, who tour with her as she supervises their musical education. The young musicians were first-rate, and after a first half devoted to musical oddities, they gave a superb performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and a schmaltzy encore that allowed Mutter to deploy her gorgeous tone.

The concert began with Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for 4 violins, with the opening Allegro taken at such speed that even some of the highly skilled violinists handling the solo parts stumbled over the notes. But the swift tempo gave the music undeniable energy and sizzle.

Skipping ahead more than 250 years, the concert continued with a contemporary work commissioned by Mutter, the Gran Cadenza for two violins by Unsuk Chin, a South Korean composer based in Berlin. Joining Mutter for the performance was the violinist Samuel Nebyu.

Intended to resemble a concerto cadenza, the work had a cadenza’s virtuoso demands and improvisatory style, with Mutter’s part soaring high up the fingerboard and her colleague’s serving more as an accompaniment. Dissonant and astringent, the cadenza had a plot of sorts, with the opening virtuoso pyrotechniques calming to descending pianissimo pairs of notes, followed by glassy harmonics before an energetic conclusion Like many concerto cadenzas, the work appeared to provide more of an opportunity for technical display than musical rewards.

Mutter served as soloist in the Violin Concerto in A Major of Joseph Bologne, the French-Caribbean violinist and composer of the Classical era who is the subject of the forthcoming movie Chevalier. Bologne must have been a superb violinist because the concerto appeared to be harder than any of the concertos for the instrument by Haydn or Mozart.

Mutter’s bow flew across the strings in the concerto’s rapid figurations, aided by the supportive playing of her 12-member orchestra. The concerto was full of pleasant melodies, especially in the outer movements, which Mutter played with style and a singing tone.

The second half of the concert was far more rewarding. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may be one of the world’s most popular works, but excellent live performances of the full four concertos are rare. Mutter’s virtuosity was nothing short of dazzling, with her matchless bowing delivering crisp, brilliantly vivid accounts of the bird calls, thunderstorms and teeth-chattering cold expressed by the concertos.

These were not period-conscious performances, and that was one of their strengths. At times, such as the Largo of Winter, Mutter lavished as much vibrato on the melody as she would the second-movement theme of the Bruch Concerto No. 1, which is to say a lot. At other times, such as the Adagio of Autumn, she and the other musicians played with no vibrato at all, bowing in a manner that produced ghostly wisps of sound, creating an eerie atmosphere and laying the groundwork for the sudden arrival of the earthy last movement.

As an encore, Mutter played a work by John Williams, the theme from the 1973 movie The Long Goodbye, giving a throbbing, throaty account of a melody that began on the violin’s lowest string and then soared upward, in a satisfyingly warm and romantic conclusion to the concert.

There are more important things in life than the classical concert rule against applause between movements, but Mutter repeatedly asked the audience not to applaud before the end of each work, but some cloddish audience members kept beating their hands together after every cadence. Toward the end, however, they were apparently so intimidated that no one applauded at the end of Autumn.

The next event in the Kravis Center’s classical series takes place 8 p.m. Feb. 13 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Nathalie Stutzmann, performing Brahms Symphony No. 1, and violinist Gil Shaham in the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Comments are closed.