Friday July 13, 2012

LENOX -- There are some musicians whose performances you can sense in the way they make their entrance onstage.

In a sheathed gown, flared at the knees, that made her look like a mermaid, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was a powerful presence as she swept onto the stage at Tanglewood Wednesday night. Powerhouse performances of works by Mozart, Schubert, Witold Lutoslawski and Saint-Saëns followed.

In a summer tuxedo, pianist Lambert Orkis entered more modestly at her side, but in performance he gave as good as he got. Despite the German violinist's celebrity status, which attracted a large audience to Ozawa Hall, this was fully a violin-piano recital.

How powerful was it?

Well, Schubert's unassuming Fantasie in C became a full-blown romantic drama. The piece ebbs and flows around Schubert's song "Sei mir gegruesst" ("I greet thee"), with its bittersweet alternations between yearning and melancholy. With a throaty, sometimes sobbing tone in the violin, Mutter and Orkis dug into the music not just with a will but sometimes a fury. Schubert and his gentle greeting seemed left behind, but as fiddling goes, the performance carried high voltage.

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The appearance was Mutter's first at Tanglewood in 20 years. The missing man in the recital was Andre Previn, her former husband, who continues to compose and play piano for her. As originally announced, the program was to feature his "Tango, Song and Dance" and violin-piano Sonata No. 2, the latter an American premiere.

First, Previn canceled as pianist because of an arthritic problem. Then Mutter fell ill and couldn't perform the world premiere of the sonata, which was commissioned by a piano festival in Germany and scheduled for performance there. Meanwhile, the Cesar Franck sonata also fell by the wayside, replaced by the Schubert fantasy.

In the fallout, Lutoslawski's 1984 Partita and Saint-Saëns' Sonata No. 1 replaced the Previn pieces.

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The Lutoslawski, though composed for Pinchas Zukerman, seemed made to order for Mutter. In the tradition of the Bach partitas (suites, really) for solo violin, it comes in five movements that show off the instrument's brilliance but also a wide range of expressive effects. Microtones and an interlocking motif are prominent. Mutter and Orkis took advantage of the myriad opportunities for driving energy but also found a strong musical core.

The larger-than-life qualities that marked Schubert also marked Mozart's Sonata No. 27, which opened the program, and the closing Saint-Saëns sonata.

The easy-going Mozart piece received romantic treatment, with a rich tone, touches of storm and stress, and generous give in tempos and dynamics. The Saint-Saëns has a naturally high sugar content, to which Mutter added some syrup and out-and-out razzle-dazzle at the end. The playing was terrific. "Summertime" was a steamy encore.