EIF 2015 review: The Mutter Virtuosi

First published in The Herald on 27 August, 2015

The clue is in the name. German superstar violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter formed her personal string ensemble “in order to introduce gifted young artists to life as a professional musician”. Her own professional life equates to a circuit of glamorous soloists who command astronomical fees and play with big vibrato and bigger gestures — playing designed to impress. It’s an unhealthy cultural ecosystem and it’s artistically void. Mutter chooses and coaches her budding virtuosi and I suspect she decides on the dress code, too: them in black, her in eye-catching pink.

In technique and discipline there was no faulting these excellent young players, but neither was there any doubt who took centre-stage throughout. The programme showed off Mutter and used her ensemble as regimented backing band and fleeting partners in the spotlight. It opened with two pieces written for her: a Duo Concertante for violin and double bass by Krzysztof Penderecki — terrifically dexterous bass playing from Roman Patkolo — and a new piece by André Previn, whose first violin concerto was actually titled ‘Anne-Sophie’. His Nonet is a combination of banal and self-important, alternating cheap folksy tropes and vaguely modernist tricks for good measure.

In Bach’s Double Concerto, each movement featured a different soloist alongside Mutter; all credit to Ye-Eun Choi for so deftly shaping her phrases in the Largo. Mutter was sole soloist in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Her baroque playing is heavy-handed, cloying and wildly unidiomatic, with crass ornaments slapped on like a time bomb from before the early music revolution that happened half a century ago. With top period instrument ensembles like Dunedin Consort right on our doorstep, Edinburgh International Festival has scant excuse for presenting Bach and Vivaldi like this.