Anne-Sophie Mutter, perhaps one of the best known of established current violinists, began learning the piano at five but took up the violin shortly afterwards, studying with Erna Honigberger (once a pupil of Carl Flesch). Mutter later continued her studies with Aida Stucki at the Winterthur Conservatory.
At thirteen she was invited by Herbert von Karajan to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, thus starting a fruitful collaboration; their first recording together was Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 5 in 1978. Since then Mutter has become one of the most recorded of post-war violinists, with over eighty discs to her name. Whilst much of this has been of standard repertory, she has championed a number of more recent works, some written for her, including Henri Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Wolfgang Rihm’s Gesungene Zeit. In August 2007 Mutter gave the première of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto No. 2 ‘In tempus praesens’ and Witold Lutosławski orchestrated his Partita for her.
Mutter plays two Stradivarius violins (the ‘Emiliani’ of 1703, and the ‘Lord Dunn-Raven’ of 1710) as well as a Regazzi instrument of 2005. Having made a number of experiments in her youth she plays without a shoulder rest and wears the same design of sleeveless dress by John Galliano for most of her performances, finding this most comfortable. Like several other artists before her, Mutter has strong humanitarian interests, especially in alleviating medical and social problems, and often gives benefit concerts.
In her recordings Mutter is a strong-willed and passionate player, with a notable depth and sensuousness of sound. This results in strong, muscular performances of classical repertoire such as Mozart’s K. 218 Concerto (1981) (although the no-compromise post-Romantic sound world may strike some listeners as stylistically anachronistic), and a carefully considered 1988 Tchaikovsky Concerto (which testifies to the deep artistic sympathies shared with Karajan) in a steady, but full-blooded interpretation. Mutter’s playing of such established repertoire is thought of by many as beyond reproach, but one should not ignore her outstanding performances of more recent music. Her Penderecki Violin Concerto No. 2 (1997) is captivating in its white-hot intensity from the very first note, whilst Stravinsky’s Concerto (1988)—often played in a rather laconic manner—is articulated with an almost desperate passion. Arguably, Lutosławski’s Partita, especially in this 1988 version orchestrated especially for Mutter, is rather saccharine (Lutosławski’s stark, ascetic structures working better perhaps with the percussive tones of the piano); but Rihm’s Gesungene Zeit (1992) is performed with an excellent sense of architecture and direction, whilst Berg’s seminal Concerto (also 1992) has great poignancy. In all this music Mutter’s playing has much more to it than a pretty and pleasing tone: there is a sense of profound understanding, and a deeply-felt emotional connection, running through the playing—which is technically superlative. A lighter work, perhaps showing Mutter’s less serious side, is Previn’s Tango, Song and Dance (2003) which she ‘dances’ beautifully with the composer (her then husband) at the piano.
Mutter’s place in the glittering pantheon of players is assured, but it is her contribution to and advocacy of twentieth-century music that is perhaps her most extraordinary achievement.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)