Anne-Sophie Mutter's Hommage à Penderecki

No violinist is more equipped to perform the music of Krzysztof Penderecki than Anne-Sophie Mutter. The composer dedicated his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.2, Metamorphosen (1992–1996), to her after hearing her perform at a young age and then conducting her in Prokoviev's First Violin Concerto in 1988. Mutter subsequently recorded Metamorphosen with Penderecki conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 1997, and she has commissioned three works from him. He, in turn, dedicated each of them to her. If anyone can be said to have Penderecki's music in their blood, it is Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Which does not make any of the four works on her new two-CDs-for-the-price-of-one set from Deutsche Grammophon, Hommage à Penderecki, any easier to wrap your arms around on first hearing. Penderecki may have won five Grammy Awards for his music between 1987 and 2017, but his writing has not gotten less dissident or thorny with age. It may be tonal—some of his compositions can even be termed "post-Romantic"—but it's tough stuff that needs a tough soloist to showcase it at its best.

Here is where Mutter scores. On this recording, issued in honor of Penderecki's 85th birthday, the energy of her playing is fierce and uncompromising, and the body of her tone arrestingly full and meaty. While she can soar with the best—she is, without question, one of the best—her high notes possess a weight and substance that the highs of many others do not. She comes across as a Warrior of the Violin, in the best possible way.

Mutter also seems to have an innate sympathy for Penderecki's idiom. How much this has to do with his compositions in memory of the victims of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and anti-government riots, or with his courage to stick to his unique language come what may, it is impossible to say. Regardless, in Penderecki's music she has found a true soul mate.

At the time of this writing, Hommage à Penderecki had not yet appeared on hi-rez download sites, but was available for streaming on both Tidal and Qobuz. Thanks to a connection made through David Chesky, I mostly auditioned the recording in 24/96 WAV format. I say "mostly" because while the three works on the first CD—La Follia (2013) for solo violin, Duo concertante (2010) for violin and double bass, and Sonata No.2 (1999) for violin and piano—were recorded in hi-rez between 2017 and 2011 in two different venues—Metamorphosen was recorded in 16/44.1 in 1997 in yet another venue. If you believe all that doesn't make a difference, take a listen.

The performance of the 12-minute La Follia—that's the Italian spelling for "Folia"—captures Mutter solo in the airy acoustic of Bavaria Musikstudios in Munich. This nine-movement reworking of a theme from a Baroque sarabande is as uncompromising as it gets. "Folia" may stand for "follies," but I doubt you'll find anything jovial about this music. Don't miss the two brief videos where Mutter and Penderecki discuss it.

Duo concertante, which Penderecki dedicated to both Mutter and her recording partner, double bassist Roman Patkoló, receives an even airier-sounding outing. A conversation of sorts, it's also a delicious test for your system.

Sonata No.2 is perhaps the easiest work on Hommage to enjoy. Recorded with pianist Lambert Orkis, it actually has some playful, mysterious, and even tenderly romantic writing for piano. Mutter's thread-of-sound ending is very special.

Finally comes a reissue of Mutter and Penderecki's recording of Metamorphosen. After the work begins with ominous repeated chords from the orchestra, the violin starts softly before letting loose in ultra-dramatic fashion. To say that Mutter makes a meal of this virtuoso showpiece is an understatement. The rather flat Red Book sound is a bit disappointing, but the definitive nature of the performance compensates.

Even if you're afraid of heights, Hommage à Penderecki is the perfect way to balance on a tightrope between two skyscrapers without concern for falling. Music lovers of daring know what to do next.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I had the opportunity to hear Mutter play the 2nd Concerto in Berlin with the RSO this past May. Penderecki was supposed to conduct but, apparently, he was not up to the task although he was in attendance. The conductor was his assistant, Maciej Tworek, was fine but Mutter was spectacular. The audience responded with long applause which turned fortissimmo when Penderecki came on stage and was warmly embraced by Mutter.

Thanks for posting because it reminds me that I have to get this.

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent review- JVS.
I will add this one to my list.

Anton's picture

It’s like a bit of a bonus prize when you post your reviews on a weekend. Like an extra present that wasn’t expected!

Graham Luke's picture

...Anne-Sophie; truly a goddess on earth.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another feather in the cap for JVS :-) ...........

volvic's picture

Backstage after she finished performing Beethoven's violin concerto with Dutoit. I have almost all of her recordings except for her latest interpretations, found several to be fast and tasteless, in particular her last recording of the seasons by Vivaldi. That said there is no violinist that I can think of that has championed the modern repertoire like Mutter and for that she is to be applauded and treasured. This is a definite purchase even though I have the 2nd violin concerto and Metamorphosen from a previous DG recording as mentioned. The last several years I have grown to love Penderecki's works, in particular his second cello concerto and his Polish requiem. Yes, they are challenging but they are worth the effort. It is great to see giants of music taking on modern composers and sharing their output with us. A definite purchase.

Herb Reichert's picture

I've been obsessed with this for weeks

what a fine group of works