Deutsche Grammophon seems to be on a nostalgia kick lately. The advent of Blu-ray audio has proved useful in releasing the back-catalog, and this is the second project in a few short months to tie into Herbert von Karajan. Sometimes it doesn't work out – Dudamel's awful Strauss – and sometimes it works out wonderfully, as here. Not only does Manfred Honeck have the Berliners playing better under him than they did for Dudamel (or Abbado, or Rattle, or Boulez…), but violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter delivers a prime recommendation for the Dvořák concerto.
Mutter actually hasn't recorded with the Philharmonic since Karajan's death in the late 80's, and since she was his personal violin soloist till the end, it's odd that the partnership did not continue under Karajan's successors. But she's basically spent the last few years revisiting those pieces she recorded in Berlin in everywhere but Berlin, mostly very well. In the Dvořák, we have a piece that was not set down at all previously, and so these forces seem ideal, especially for a trip down memory lane. Big kudos to Mutter and DG for not choosing an aged label mate to conduct, but rather the enormously talented Manfred Honeck. Like Mutter, Honeck's musical tastes are varied, and he's a fresh face on the international scene. Mutter isn't, but she's still astonishingly young given how long she's been recording, and her technique is in any event still fabulous.
The first movement launches thrillingly, and immediately you can tell just how well Honeck has connected with these players; they sound tremendous. There's the usual weight and beauty of the string tone, but also real energy and rhythmic snap. And speaking of energy and snap, Mutter dazzles. Despite the fact that she hasn't played with these forces in over 25 years, the connection and synergy is clearly still present. Mutter's tone is full, warm, and dead on. She compares favorably to Suk, Stern, and any of the great readings of the work, and she has arguably the best sound and support of all. As I've already said, the first movement is urgent and exciting, supported by a clearly revved up Philharmonic. The middle adagio is hesitantly phrased at first – compare this to Stern on Sony – but from there is simply masterful. So too is the contribution of the Philharmonic, although I wouldn't have minded winds placed a little more forwardly in the mix. The strings are lovely, regardless. As for the finale, it's incredible. Timing wise, it's the fastest in my collection, but isn't rushed. It's urgent, exciting, and explosive. Those closing pages are stunning.
The fillers conveniently keep this disc an all-Dvořák program. The composer's Romance is nothing short of ravishing, twelve minutes of some of his most purely beautiful writing. Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic do what they are supposed to; make us fall in love with it. As for the Mazurek and Humoresque, they are noticeably less important, albeit well-played and nice enough. If the presence of the latter piece helps sell this excellent project to the public, then I'm all for it, although it's almost unbearably schmaltzy. Oh well, an hour of gorgeous Dvořák beats a whole lot else in life, and this is about as good as it gets.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman