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Anne-Sophie Mutter vividly reaffirms her artistry in Symphony Center recital

Eloquence, sophistication and grace. Those were just three of the stellar qualities in evidence Sunday afternoon, as Anne-Sophie Mutter decisively reconfirmed her place among the leading violinists of our time.

In the German soloist’s first recital at Symphony Center since 2008, Mutter gave the audience a comprehensive look at her vivid artistry via an ambitious program that spanned more than 225 years.

As impressive as she was, though, it must said right up front, that this was very much a duo-recital with pianist Lambert Orkis — a wonderfully nuanced, expressive interpreter in his own right, who deserves half the credit for its success.

The two have performed and recorded together since 1988 — surely one of the great musical partnerships of that time — and their deep, instinctive rapport was obvious both in their subtle onstage interactions and close-knit music-making.

That connection could be heard right from the opening of the first piece, Mozart’s Sonata No. 27 in G Major, K. 379, which nicely set the tone for everything that would follow.

Orkis delivered the work’s slow, quiet introduction with a delicate vibrancy and light, relaxed touch, qualities that Mutter evoked precisely as she entered some bars later, in a calm, unhurried and almost dreamy manner. Later, in another demonstration of their musical affinity, she deftly offset a gentle yet still firm series of pizzicatos against the easy flow of Orkis’ piano line.

Mutter has gained a strong reputation in the music of Mozart, and this performance demonstrated why. She and Orkis displayed both an ease and a depth in their playing, imbuing this work with a welcome sense of freshness.

Many of these same traits could be heard as well in Schubert’s spellbinding Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934, which includes a series of variations on the composer’s song, “Sei mir gegrüsst.”

Mutter patiently rendered its slow, lovely opening (nicely meshed with the piano) before bringing a graceful, clean attack to the allegretto second movement and adroitly handling the contrasts that mark much of the rest of the piece, from moments of soft reverie to lightning 16th-note runs.

The violinist is closely associated with the music of 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, so it was fitting that she included one of his works as part of this year’s international celebration of the centennial of his birth.

She chose his Partita for Violin and Piano (1984), a late work which is more melodic and less extreme than some of his earlier, more avant-garde compositions, but nonetheless displays elements of Lutoslawski’s sharp-edge rhythms, blunt dissonances and stark edginess. Unlike the angry blasts and mocking tone of Shostakovich’s chamber pieces, this work has a kind of emotional hollowness that is equally unsettling and darkly compelling in its way.

No aspect of Mutter’s artistry is more striking than her ability to achieve an extraordinary range of tonal effects, from the dark-hued murmurs in certain quiet sections of Mozart, to fiery, gypsy-flavored violin licks in Brahms. This piece calls for an array of wails, scratches and screeches, and she vividly realized them all with a surprisingly wide expressive spectrum.

The program ended with Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75, and here Mutter was able to break out some her most voluptuous playing of the recital. But, oddly, parts of this piece felt a little contained, and it wasn’t until the final presto movement that this work really took fire, as she galloped to the work’s conclusion with a burst of technical bravado.

The romantic fervor of that work carried through in her three encores: a breathtaking version of Massenet’s Meditation from “Thaïs,” a suitably zesty take on Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 2 in D Minor and ending with Ravel’s “Pièce en forme de Habanera.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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