Anne-Sophie Mutter's Abu Dhabi Classics performance evoked a range of emotions.
An evening of versatile sounds and complex emotions
There aren't many violinists whose playing I think I could identify in a blindfold test but Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of them. It isn't that she has a particularly distinctive tone or repertoire of favoured techniques. It's more that, if you find yourself puzzled that this particular piece should be evoking this particular mood - and so successfully, too - then Mutter probably isn't far away. She embroiders, using actorly conceits to shed new light, or at least cast interesting new shadows on her part - like Simon Russell Beale realising that Hamlet should be played as a hangdog Philip Marlowe. And so on Saturday evening at the Emirates Palace, Mozart's Piano Trio in B Flat was transfigured from the glib and gambolling thing of musical tradition to a psychological work of seething intensity.
Mutter was accompanied by the American pianist Lambert Orkis and Daniel Müller-Schott, a young cellist and graduate from her own musical foundation. The trio began playing without a word (indeed, with barely a pause for the audience to acknowledge that they had appeared onstage), and they made a real ensemble; for all that the title of the concert was The Magic of the Violin, Mutter chose repertoire that made her an equal partner, and Orkis in particular impressed with tasteful virtuoso playing.
The opening allegro movement is one of Mozart's lost-at-the-masked-ball affairs, full of arpeggios that tumble like dominoes and playful twists into minor key. Mutter's wide, fast vibrato and sudden drops in volume, her chords falling faintheartedly away, sounded a note of visceral unease amid the frivolity. It was the most remarkable piece of musical reframing of the night but it readied the audience for a restless show. The lyrical larghetto movement was filled with swooping glissandos, spiking the violin and cello harmonies with momentary discords. The allegretto sped between jubilance and terror. Mozart rarely sounds disturbing, but he did here.
The ground was prepared for a trio by Mutter's former husband, André Previn. It presented little opportunity to tweak tradition since it premiered in April last year, but it made an excellent showcase for the turbulent moods of Mutter's violin. Scraps of 20th-century popular music - ragtime piano, jazz, soupy Mantovani strings - tumbled over one another in a whirlwind of freak tonalities. Mutter wrung melodies from her violin that sounded like a rusty gate, tones like the ringing of a crystal glass and, with the help of Muller-Schott, great pillowy chords that conjured an entire string section. It's a spiky piece by the standards of Abu Dhabi Classics, but this was a rich and inviting reading.
After that, the relatively straight take on Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No 1 in D Minor, a genteel piece of drawing-room romanticism from the early 19th century's squarest composer, came as a surprise. There's a mechanical quality about Mendelssohn's alternating storms and sun rays, which isn't to disparage them: they're beautiful mechanisms. Orkis held up his end with notably fine balance and gracefulness. Mutter's playing became assertive, lending a satisfying tartness to the piece's glutinous melodies. It wasn't a revelation: Mendelssohn isn't for everyone and not everyone will have been won over by this performance. But it will have won him a good few converts. And it held up another facet of Mutter's playing: there are lots of them to admire.