TWO YEARS ago, when Deutsche Grammophon released Anne-Sophie Mutter's debut recording of Mozart's G major and A major violin concertos with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, the awe inspired by her performances at the age of 14 prompted some of us to note that Mozart, after all, was only five years older when he composed those works. Now Deutsche Grammophon has brought out her even more impressive performance of the Beethoven Concerto, again with Von Karajan, recorded at the ripe age of 16 (2531.250; cassette 3301.250).
The Violin Concerto was not one of Beethoven's more successful works. After Franz Clement gave the premiere in December 1806, it was heard only once again in the composer's lifetime, when Luigi Tomasini (Haydn's former concertmaster at Eszterhaza) played it nearly six years later. Few other violinists gave it a nod. Baillot played it once in 1828, the year after Beethoven's death, and Vieuxtemps gave it a performance 10 years later. What finally gave the work a place in the permanent repertory was the performance that marked the London debut of a 13-year-old prodigy named Joseph Joachim in 1844, with Felix Mendelssohn conducting.
Joachim was no mere boy wonder, and grew up to be one of the most respected musicians of his time. He was the most highly regarded of all violinists; both Brahms and Dvorak wrote their violin concertos for him, and Brahms, his closest friend for some 30 years, also composed his Double Concerto and violin sonatas for him. Joachim was a composer of considerable accomplishment himself, and an eminent conductor; in his later years he became renowned as a pedagogue and conservatory director, and founded the famous string quartet that bore his name.
In any event, it was a very young Joachim who earned the Beethoven Concerto its belated acceptance, and in so doing not only established the work but demonstrated that its demands were not beyond the capacities of a supremely gifted child. What is remarkable about Anne-Sophie Mutter's performances, then, is not a mere traversal of the notes, but the warmth and wit, the all-round understanding of what is essentially a more expansive than dramatic work, and the big (really big), handsome tone with which that understanding is so affectionately and irresistibly communicated.
All of Mutter's recordings so far (in addition to the aforementioned Mozart disc, there is a Beethoven Triple Concerto in which her fellow soloists are cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Mark Zeltser) have been with Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. This is obviously an excellent combination. If Deutsche Grammophon intends to hold to if for a survey of all the major violin concertos, it should be a spectacular series -- though it would be interesting to hear this superb young artist with other conductors and, for that matter, in non-orchestral material. In the meantime, the stunning performance of the Beethoven Concerto, in which she plays the Kreisler cadenzas, is one of the very finest on records, on the exalted level of the classic Grumiaux-Galliera recording (Philips Festivo 6570.051) and the similarly refined version by Josef Suk with Sir Adrian Boult (Vanguard Everyman SRV-353SD).
Almost as remarkable as young Mutter's in the Beethoven Concerto is the youthful exuberance and sheer drive shown by Karl Boehm in his conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic in Mozart's four concertos for horn on another Deutsche Grammophon release, with Guenter Hoegner as soloist (2531.274; cassette 3301.274). Boehm's orchestral dash, Hoegner's gorgeous tone on his Viennese horn and Deutsche Grammophon's wide-open sound add up to a most enjoyable listening experience, even if it does not quite match the pleasures offered by the unforgettable Dennis Brain in his old mono recording with Karajan (Angel 35092) or by Barry Tuckwell with the great Mozart conductor Peter Maag (London CS-6403. Since the Tuckwell/Maag performances of the First and Third concertos are also available in an alternative coupling with the absolutely indispensable version of the Clarinet Concerto by Gervase de Peyer and Maag (London CS-6178), one might wish to have a different recording of the set instead of duplicating the same ones of those two works. In that case the best in stereo would be Tuckwell's remake with Neville Marriner (Angel S-36840; cassette 4XS-36840), which includes the Rondo, K 371, as well as the concerto fragment that is also on CS-6403.