Magazine article Strings

Sublime Sophie

Magazine article Strings

Sublime Sophie

Article excerpt


The New York Philharmonie and its music director, Lorin Maazel, presented a mostly 20th-century program featuring German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in a riveting April 25 performance of the Alban Berg Violin Concerto.

Mutter has long been a dedicated champion of contemporary music; the Berg concerto is especially close to her heart and she has made it completely her own. A consummate virtuoso, she handled the notoriously difficult, often stratospheric solo part with natural ease. Her tone was meltingly beautiful and pure, even in the highest register. Her identification with the work's changing moods, from deceptive light-heartedness through gradually mounting anguish to ultimate resignation, gave the performance a wrenching emotional impact.

Unfortunately, the concerto's heavy orchestration-its only flaw-frequently overpowers even the strongest soloists, and Mutter was no exception.

Written in the shadow of tragedy and death, the concerto was composed during the summer of 1935 on a commission by Louis Krasner. Berg dedicated it "To the Memory of an Angel," Alma Mahler Gropius' 18-year-old daughter, Manon, who had died of polio that year. Usually a slow worker, Berg wrote it in feverish haste, as if driven by ominous foreboding: he died at Christmas, a few months before its 1936 premiere by Krasner. Anton Webern was to conduct but, devastated by his friend's death, he broke down during rehearsal and Hermann Scherchen took over.

Krasner later recorded the concerto.

Atonality is often accused of being entirely cerebral, but Berg was not afraid to show his feelings, nor to meld 12-tone techniques with traditional elements. …

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