Monday, 20 February 2012

Mutter/Müller-Schott/Previn - Mozart, Previn, and Mendelssohn, 20 February 2012

Barbican Hall

Mozart – Piano Trio no.2 in B-flat major, KV 502
Previn – Trio no.1
Mendelssohn – Piano Trio no.1 in D minor, op.49

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
André Previn (conductor)


The Mozart trio, KV 502, did not augur well for the rest of the programme, yet, although it was certainly a pity that Mozart’s fortunes proved mixed, there was considerably more to be enjoyed in the performances of André Previn’s own 2009 trio – another is to be premiered in New York, later this year – and Mendelssohn’s delightful D minor essay in the genre. The first movement of the Mozart was taken fast, perhaps too fast for the players – save for the excellent Daniel Müller-Schott – really to delve beneath the admittedly attractive surface. I was perhaps most surprised at the outset by the intonational difficulties experienced by Anne-Sophie Mutter, but even once the music had settled down somewhat, there remained problems. Previn often sounded as if he were playing regardless of his partners. (I cannot believe that that was the case, but it was the impression.) The slow movement cohered better, Previn’s part sounding more integrated, the pianist showing a greater willingness to follow where necessary. I was struck here and elsewhere by the sensitivity of Müller-Schott’s playing, even when, perhaps especially when, he was called on only to play a ‘mere’ bass line. The piano part, however, remained distinctly cool. Despite a serious lapse early on from the pianist, the finale fared best: lively, whilst remaining an Allegretto. The string players imparted great character, Mozart at times looking forward – though only looking forward – to Beethoven’s trios.

The immediate impression in the first movement, marked ‘Spirited’, of Previn’s trio was of Copland meeting Prokofiev, later joined by more than a hint of Vienna-cum-Hollywood. Balance and idiom were here much surer: there was at last a true sense of interaction between all the players, whether the material were angular, sweet, or both. Opportunities were well taken by Müller-Schott to shine in the second movement, ‘Adagio’; he proved equally fine as a soloist and a chamber musician, or rather made one doubt the validity of any such distinction. The rapt lyricism often to be heard here again put me in mind of Prokofiev in Cinderella-mode, and a certain side-slipping quality again evoked the Russian composer. Jazzy tendencies present earlier on became more pronounced at the opening of the concluding movement, marked ‘Lightly’. It received a lively performance, every bit as rhythmically alert as its predecessors. Whatever the ultimate fortunes of the work, it sounded – and looked – fun to play.

Romantic yearning, counterbalanced by Classical sense of form, characterised the first movement of Mendelssohn’s D minor trio. Previn’s fingers could not always keep up with his mind: some scale passages were blurred, or skated over. The sense, however, was always present. Mutter and Müller-Schott were both on excellent form, their dialogue at the opening of the recapitulation quite heartrending. There were, moreover, real vehemence and passion to the closing bars. The opening of the slow movement offered perhaps the best piano playing of the concert so far, Previn sounding an unaffected, Schumannesque nobility of spirit. Violin and cello responded in kind: a Romantic kind, certainly, yet never mawkish, and above all songful. Previn seemed rejuvenated when the scherzo opened, as able as his colleagues to contribute not only to its elfin but also to its Beethovenian qualities. It was a delight, as was the finale. If there were occasions when, again, Previn could not quite articulate every note as he doubtless once would have done, the spirit was ever-willing. There was a fine sense of major-mode apotheosis at the close, not unlike Brahms, but less ‘late’ in character.

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