Mutter and Mendelssohn make an attractive pairing
Hong Kong Philharmonic
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
17 November 2012
It's a pity that Dvorak's Violin Concerto wasn't performed as originally scheduled by the philharmonic. Many think the work deserves a higher profile in the 19th-century concerto repertoire, but it never quite makes it. What better way to get a handle on the matter than by hearing what Anne-Sophie Mutter's distinguished musicianship might have to say? It wasn't to be, however, with the virtuoso violinist reasoning that the work was an inappropriate partner for the 21st-century piece she was playing in the first half of the programme.
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto was consequently wheeled in, an old friend in the arms of one of the most thoughtful players on the circuit. And what an attractive pair they made, Mutter giving the piece a makeover by simply observing Mendelssohn's clear instructions: play the first movement at a fair lick and with unbridled passion (and by the seat of its pants in one or two places here); give the middle movement a two-in-the-bar lilt; and inject the finale with nose-tingling effervescence.
Maintaining the orchestra's deferential but tight response in accompaniment, conductor Michael Francis had already laid out his credentials with a tremendous performance of Janacek's triptych, Taras Bulba. Having a knack for crisp sound bites, Janacek would make a plausible modern-day politician; with his gift for abruptly stopping when there's nothing more to say, he wouldn't. This is no string-of-pearls music, but an inset of vibrantly contrasted stones. Francis had clearly done his homework in working out how to give them the individual shape and sparkle they crave.
Titled Time Machines and written for Mutter, Sebastian Currier's violin concerto deals similarly in terse statements and overall brevity, though it's built on abstract concepts as opposed to Janacek's colourful narrative (death, death and more death). Currier's note on the last movement told us that "the violin presents a long cantabile line amidst a varied harmonic landscape"; and that's about as engaging as it got.