This complete cycle of Beethoven violin sonatas was recorded during a series of live performances in 1998. Mutter devoted the entire year, together with her partner, Lambert Orkis, to an extensive global tour focused on these works, and the accounts are infused with a sense of cross-connection, expressive freedom, and depth of insight acquired from such prolonged concentration. It shows Mutter in full maturity, commanding the artistic confidence to take risks and imprint her intensely personal signature. Mutter's characteristically sumptuous, caressing tone tends to be overstated for Beethoven's heartily playful turns and mercurial humor in the fast movements of the Op. 12 group, but the luminous beauty with which she phrases the Adagio of the third sonata is just one of many passages (consider, for example, Sonata No. 8's slow movement, as well) of sustained, heart-stopping poetry on this set.
The famous "Spring" Sonata gains an added dimension in the context of the passionately engaged performance of its preceding companion/counterpart predecessor (the Fourth Sonata in A Minor). There's a full partnership between violin and piano (too often missing in accounts of these works) that allows Mutter and Orkis to play off each other with full-blooded spontaneity, perhaps at its most engrossing in the boldly searching scope of their "Kreutzer" Sonata, which stands in wonderful contrast to the intimate loftiness of the final sonata in G--Mutter's own favorite. Throughout the set, Mutter couples her probing intelligence with nuanced phrasing, incisive rhythms, and expressive gestures (notice the tender turn she gives to the all-important trill that opens the last sonata) to bore into the music, unearthing many buried treasures. The discs also include a handful of encores as bonbons and are encoded with CD-plus software so that listeners can follow the scores of four of the sonatas. --Thomas May