Those early enough to attend the pre-concert event at the Royal Festival Hall will have heard a select roster of teenage piano students from the Yehudi Menuhin School systematically work through Bach's Two-part Inventions and Sinfonias. None was less than good, though I detected above-average talent from the Japanese Miho Kawashima, with her fluid technique and secure command of keyboard colour, and from the Thai-born Prach Boondiskulchok, whose ecstatic rendition of the E flat major Sinfonia would have been a high point on any recital programme.
Many, however, had made the trip for a whistle-stop tour through Bach's violin concertos featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter. Mutter, sleek and graceful as ever, directed a chamber ensemble extracted from the London Philharmonic, accomplished players who offered discreet, lightly bowed accompaniments, mostly without specific cues save for at the beginnings of movements.
The A minor Concerto set the tone for most of what would follow, an earnest attack of the bow, intense vibrato, sometimes consistently fast, sometimes slowly applied to a tremor-free line. The Andante was intensely lyrical, whether hushed or with that stunned, vibrato-free murmur Mutter reserves for moments of rarest rapture. The Concerto's finale is in effect a brisk, lilting jig, but Mutter's tempo was uncomfortably fast, and quite at odds with the rest of the performance.
Mutter cued a vigorous opening for the more expansive E major Violin Concerto, her first entry this time assertive to the point of aggression. Sometimes her tuning went awry, but again her repertoire of effects, modes of attack, varieties of colour and bowing were dazzling. The sensually indulged Adagio, with its blanched pianissimos and highly charged climaxes, was striking, but again, the finale was impatient and charmless.
At about 17 minutes, the D minor Double Concerto made for one of the shortest second halves I have ever encountered in the concert hall, but we could at least enjoy some interesting musical dialogue between Mutter and the 18-year-old Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan. You might say that Khachatryan's playing highlighted some of Mutter's more excessive interpretative gestures. His was the first shout, a warm, agile sound. Mutter's response was more taut and febrile. The exquisite Largo found the two players better matched, both softening to a seductive pianissimo, Mutter the more distinctive in her quiet playing, Khachatryan less mannered. This time the finale was nicely judged, though spirited.
Applause was appreciative but short-lived, the soloists' no-nonsense response making it clear that the anticipated duo "extras" by, say, Bartok or Robert Fuchs were not going to happen. One audience member turned to the rest of us and shrugged, as if to say: "So that's it?" Can't say I blamed him.