Hommage à Penderecki
Anne-Sophie Mutter has advocated contemporary music throughout her four-decade career and Krzysztof Penderecki above all, as this two-disc 85th birthday retrospective makes plain.
Interestingly the pieces are presented in reverse chronological order – opening with La follia (2013), the composer’s contribution to a centuries-old tradition of variations on this indelible Baroque sarabande. Most notable is the way in which variations in the theme’s stately tempo alternate with those of a wider expressive range, culminating in the extended 12th variation that intercuts such contrasting tempos in a ‘stretto’ of mounting intensity towards the grandly rhetorical close. Very different yet no less effective is Duo concertante (2010), an energetic and even jazzy workout for violin and double bass rendered with an almost nonchalant ease.
It is with the larger works that doubts emerge. Coming 49 years after its succinct predecessor, the Second Violin Sonata (1999) is cast on a large scale. The first two of its five movements unfold continuously as though a prelude and scherzo, their plaintive then sardonic character contrasted with the central Notturno, which interweaves somnolent and speculative passages. Here, as in the driving Allegro that follows, a tendency to discursiveness rather undermines any longer-term momentum such as the melancholy closing Andante itself fails to secure.
Penderecki’s Second Violin Concerto, Metamorphosen (1995), was also his first collaboration with Mutter – channelling its varied emotional contrasts into an expansive yet cohesive single movement whose premise of continual variation is pursued with dogged intent. The fervency of Mutter’s commitment is unerring, as is that of the London Symphony Orchestra under the composer, but it is a pity she has not tackled Penderecki’s First Violin Concerto – among the earliest and arguably the most convincing of his essays in a combative neo-Romanticism.
Throughout, Mutter’s playing has all the imperiousness this music requires. The sound has presence and immediacy (abrasively so in the concerto), and it hardly matters if the booklet note offers more a eulogy to her and Penderecki rather than any consideration of his music.