This record is permeated by love. Bernstein's Serenade was inspired by Plato's Symposium, a series of paeans to love in all its multifarious aspects; Previn's Concerto was inspired by, and composed for, Anne-Sophie Mutter, whom he married shortly afterward. Many distinguished composers, such as Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Currier, and Rihm, have written concertos and other works for Mutter, but surely this one must be especially close and dear to her, and she certainly plays it that way. It is designed to bring out her strengths to best advantage: her stunning virtuosity, her ravishingly beautiful tone, flawlessly pure on all strings, at any tempo, with a glorious radiance in the top register. The part bristles with runs at top speed, double stops, jumps across the whole fingerboard (opening with a leap over about four octaves), and makes full use of her limitless palette of tone-colors. Of the Concerto's three movements, the first and longest is lush, tonal, with broad, soaring melodies and stark contrasts, alternating between fast and slow, lyrical and vigorous sections; the second is more spare, dissonant, mysterious, ominous. The third, and best, is a set of variations on a German children's song, subjecting a simple tune to enormously clever, inventive rhythmic and harmonic distortions and stylistic manipulations. The recurring original melody is played with great affection, revealing its past and present meaning to composer and performer. The orchestration is luscious; the work's style is clearly influenced by Previn's multi-faceted career. As often happens with music written for a specific player, Mutter's performance, recorded live on this disc, will be hard to match.
Bernstein, another composer of protean versatility, also draws upon his enormously varied, eclectic stylistic experience in the Serenade. Its four movements loosely resemble a concerto. After a stratospheric violin solo, the first movement turns into a charming, exuberant waltz with a jazzy flavor; the slow second movement is sensuous, graceful, yearning, the third is a brilliant Scherzo, the last is rich, assertive, dissonant, and frankly jazzy. The performance is superb. --Edith Eisler