Anne Sophie Mutter/Lambert Orkis - The Silver Album (DG 479 2949)
"I do expect the unexpected and, you know, when it happens, it just feels great," says violinst Anne-Sophie Mutter. "Because that's what chamber music is there for. You have to, at the end of the day, be able to shake each other out of your comfort zone."
That, in a nutshell, is one reason Anne-Sophie Mutter has so enjoyed working with pianist Lambert Orkis for the past 25 years. To celebrate this landmark anniversary, they've released The Silver Album, a two-CD set featuring major sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, a few timeless encore pieces plus a couple world-premiere recordings.
Lambert Orkis says it takes a lot of hard work to maintain a long-term collaboration. What's made this 25-year collaboration much easier is that Orkis and Mutter really enjoy one other's company and one another's playing. "I've been spoiled playing with a great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, who introduced me to Anne-Sophie," Lambert explains, "and I got used to hearing wonderful playing and when the opportunity came to play with her, it was just so natural. Her playing is so beautiful and informed. She enjoys what she's doing and she's passionate about it. And my life as a pianist is made both difficult and easy because I'm challenged to try to match her artistry, her virtuosity and her beautiful sound. But it's also easier for me because she has such great ears she actually listens to the piano. And a lot of our communication is done through sound."
Exploring the repertoire together has been one of their greatest rewards. When they decided to learn the complete cycle of sonatas by Mozart, Anne-Sophie remembers it being a new adventure for both of them. "So having to conquer this mountain in pieces which we'd never played before was exceedingly more exciting because there was more discussion, more question marks because neither of us had yet really decided where it would go," she says. "So we really needed each other's very different input more than ever before.
"And I have to say that meeting Lambert some 25-and-a-half years ago was a particularly happy moment in my life because from the very beginning of our collaboration, it was clear that we had a way to breathe together, to phrase together, which is certainly an innate quality which you cannot really train."
Anne-Sophie is also a champion of modern music. Her sense of adventure has resulted in a number of commissions and world premieres, including André Previn's Sonata No. 2, which he composed for her. It's one of two world premieres that appear on The Silver Album. "That Sonata No. 2 is a classical three-movement sonata whose second movement is particularly haunting and beautiful, as André is capable like almost no other living composer to capture emotion in a very accessible but still extremely original and generally his way of harmonic structure as well as emotional contents," explains Anne-Sophie, "and Lambert particularly enjoys playing for example also the third movement of that second sonata because it is full of wit and rhythmical muscle. It's a piece which is very varied as André is always looking into so many different musical aspects of his past and his present, he's one of the great jazz musicians of our days, he's a fabulous pianist himself."
André Previn is an amazing pianist, and Lambert Orkis says that makes this sonata even more challenging to play, though it's still a lot of fun, "He must have very flexible fingers," Orkis says. "There's something about the pianism which is … unique. It's him. I admire him immensely as a pianist he's a beautiful pianist. He treats harmony in a unique way. It's full of surprises for me … the music is accessible to both the performer and the listener but yet fresh and modern sounding. It isn't Beethoven, it isn't Brahms it's him. I think I would recognize his music not only by the sound of it but actually by how it feels on the keyboard. I have to work pretty hard on it. There are times when we've rehearsed in front of him and he has a twinkle in his eye. And he says, 'It was obviously written from the point of view of a pianist.' And I will sometimes say, 'Yes, with YOU as a pianist.' But it IS pianistic … but challenging."
After performing together for 25 years, you might wonder if anything about their music-making becomes routine. It is a risk, Mutter says, especially if you think you've found that one road you can always go down when performing a piece. That, however, is not the way she and Lambert Orkis do things, as you'll hear when you listen to The Silver Album. "Every concert is an adventure, it's well-rehearsed up till the last moment, but then really in the spontaneity of the evening, there is so much curiosity in both of us," she says. "And you know so many things just happening sometimes without you even wanting them to happen, that we just fly very high with each other and do help each other where we can to achieve our musical goals."