Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter's first Miami performance in two decades drew a large and highly attentive audience to the New World Center Saturday night. The celebrated German violinist was the featured soloist in the New World Symphony's final program of the season under the baton of artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas. In the park outside the hall, it seemed like every inch of space was filled by the crowd viewing the wallcast of the concert.
A glamorous presence and deeply probing artist, Mutter did not disappoint. Eschewing the flashy romantic concerto repertoire, she gave outstanding performances of a 20th century masterpiece and the American premiere of a score created for her by the late Swiss composer Norbert Moret.
Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was the composer's final completed work. The score was Berg's emotional response to the death of 18-year-old aspiring actress Manon Gropius, daughter of architect Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler (composer Gustav Mahler's widow).
Mutter's radiant tone immediately filled the hall with the darkly romantic theme that opens the concerto, played on the open strings. Tilson Thomas' judicious balancing of the underlying harp and strings beautifully meshed with Mutter's long-breathed phrasing and immaculate technique. Through the more rapid virtuosic sections of the first movement, Mutter sustained the score's musical line and dark aura. Even in the violin's highest reaches, her intonation remained clean and her execution of the most difficult passages was note-perfect.
The orchestral outburst that opens the concerto's second movement really registered. Mutter tore through the initial rapid-fire moments, her sound more gutsy and always audible over the full ensemble. In the Adagio, she drew out the layers of emotion beneath the finely textured writing. Mutter channeled the final section's aching sadness with admirable restraint, allowing the music to flow in an unembellished, straightforward manner, with a finely contoured fade at the coda.
Tilson Thomas provided attentive accompaniment, drawing sensuous sounds from the strings and vivid, colorful playing from the winds.
In brief remarks introducing the Moret work, Tilson Thomas referred to Mutter as one of the music world's “most adventurous spirits.” Indeed she has premiered over 22 new works, greatly enriching the violin repertoire.
Moret wrote his concerto En réve (A Dream) for Mutter in 1988. While Moret's music remained relatively obscure during his lifetime, the 20-minute concerto suggests he was a major talent. Scored for solo violin with strings, two horns and percussion, the score is filled with striking fragments of melody and color.
Often setting the violin against mallet percussion, celesta or solo timpani, Moret creates an array of innovative sound combinations. The long violin solo that opens the second movement, Dialogue with the Star, demands a display of pyrotechnics worthy of Paganini. Angular, folk-tinged gestures abound in the raucous finale. Both a showpiece and sensuous soundscape, the concerto was tailor-made for Mutter's purity of tone and technical command. Under Tilson Thomas' fiery leadership, the reduced instrumental forces played with fine clarity and an incisive edge.
Although Mutter was the concert's drawing card, the evening's orchestral offerings also found the players in top form. The Overture to Schubert's Rosamunde was assayed with lithe brilliance. In two entr'actes from the incidental music, Tilson Thomas' expertly alternated Schubert's stormy outbursts and buoyant melodies. The conductor’s finely terraced dynamics drew out the elegant wind combinations especially well.
From the first strokes of two harps and the rumble of lower strings, Debussy's La Mer was tautly controlled. Tilson Thomas' fast tempos offered a vivid portrait of the sea's fury and beauty. The velvety string tone, glints of color from the winds and roar of the brass contributed to an intense performance that reached a thunderous climax.
A rhythmically charged reading of the Farandole from Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2 was a high-spirited encore for the concert and the season.
The New World Symphony repeats the program April 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York and 8 p.m. April 29 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For information, visit www.nws.edu, www.carnegiehall.org or www.kennedy-center.org.