Lso/Mutter/Masur | Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

I haven't felt so depressed for ages about a concert that was, as one would expect with such eminent musicians, so superlatively played. Anne-Sophie Mutter is never a merely showy player, and it is still unusual to find a virtuoso of her calibre so devoted to working closely with living composers. So what's the problem? Well, chiefly the evening's main work: Krzysztof Penderecki's Second Violin Concerto, subtitled Metamorphoses, composed for this soloist in 1992-5, and here receiving its British premiÿre.

It's easy to see why Mutter would treasure the piece: for one thing, both the solo and the orchestral parts are no doubt rewarding to play, combining many well-written moments into a complex, emotionally charged single-movement structure lasting almost 40 minutes. But for me it brought back all the old Penderecki problems. Extremely restless on the surface, the music is actually no more than a series of second-hand, knee-jerk responses to an overall strategy that ultimately feels completely false. I must admit that the ghostly hymn-like passages near the close did make me sit up and take notice. But as a whole, the concerto strikes me as a gigantic pseudo-19th-century fake.

Wolfgang Rihm's Time Chant of 1991-2, the other work Mutter played - like the Penderecki, intelligently and probingly, as well as ravishingly, and with an astonishing command of different timbres - feels more like the real thing. It incorporates beautifully ethereal moments as well as using its modest forces in a combustive, almost Varÿse-like way. Yet its message is ultimately dark, brooding and very Germanic.

"Thoroughly Modern Mutter", the soloist's own programme essay, suggests a mission to promote "colour and expression" in new music, and a refusal of "experiment" and the "purely intellectual statement". Thankfully, that hasn't stopped her from commissioning Sofia Gubaidulina and even Boulez for the future. So there's hope yet that her contribution to the repertoire may move further away from its current dark, Romantic, symphonic - and, to some, the exact opposite of thoroughly modern - bias.