BRAHMS: The Complete Violin Sonatas, Blu-ray (2010)

by | Nov 2, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: The Complete Violin Sonatas, Blu-ray (2010)

Performers:Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin/ Lambert Orkis, piano
Producers: Ute Fesquet/ Pauline Heister

Studio: DGG 00440 073 4618

Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, PCM Stereo
Extras: BRAHMS: Wiegenlied, Op. 49:4 (encore); Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis in conversation (English); Anne-Sophie Mutter on Brahms’s Violin Sonatas (German)

Length: 78 minutes (concert); 31 minutes (encore and extras)

Rating: ****

Mutter and Orkis have been playing these works for 20 years now; I heard them about 13 years ago in person, and it was revelatory. Since that time Mutter began her sonic explorations of various forms of non-vibrato expression on the violin, first heard by me in her complete Beethoven Sonatas (DGG), and subsequently used in concerto recordings as well. I have found her penchant for dry vibratoless string sound as a means of idiom to be contrived and predictable at this point. For those who agree with me, she continues the practice here, to bad effect—I assume that this is the same on the DGG CD recording to be reviewed in these pages soon.

But I just can’t dismiss this recital because of that one issue, for her playing and understanding of Brahms is profound, and I can think of few other violinists active today that can match it. So we have here right off the bat in the A-major sonata that opens the recital. It is a veritable joy-fest, and Mutter’s warm and burnished sound wins the day in every bar; likewise the successive G-major sonata, the opening never more magical and heart-tugging. The finale D-minor is a passionate and extroverted account that competes with almost any on record, and certainly scores the Blu-ray sweeps.

Mutter’s first recording on EMI, done when she was nineteen years old, is still one of the finest on disc, and as it can be had for a song, is well worth acquiring. She admits in the interviews on this Blu-ray that she is not playing these sonatas any better now, but that her interpretation has changed based on further developments in understanding. I don’t think she would say that these recordings are “better” than her previous one, and they are not; but they do display a controlled eloquence that allows much emotion while keeping Brahms firmly under grasp, perhaps a defining characteristic of every recording she has ever made. Much of the credit, especially noticeable in the interviews, has to be the influence of Lambert Orkis, who adds a depth and maturity of thought that compliments Mutter’s own and I am sure challenges lots of sacred cows in rehearsal. The fact that the two of them have been so involved with Brahms for so long only adds to the unique partnership dynamics and subsequent interpretative quality.

The sound is stunning on this disc, and the Blu-ray 1080i resolution shows the Bibliotheksaal in Polling, Bavaria to gorgeous effect. The ever fashion-conscious Mutter looks stunning as well, and the camera-work is generous to a fault in terms of showing us these two artists in careful camaraderie while giving us focused images of violin bow and finger work and piano key traversal. The audience is equally appreciative and quiet as a mouse in this intimate setting. Accompanying interviews are very interesting as well. This is well worth the investment even if it isn’t the last word on these sonatas—you will be engrossed, I promise.

— Steven Ritter 

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