Violin Concerto No. 2; plus selected film themes (arr. violin and orchestra)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin); Boston Symphony Orchestra/John Williams
DG 486 1698 50:54 mins
The violin has inspired John Williams for decades, notably since the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, for which he recommended Isaac Stern as the score’s soloist. Stern apparently offered encouragement to Williams when he ran his first Violin Concerto by him at the piano, though that work – dedicated to the composer’s late wife on completion in 1976 – would never be performed by Stern. Forty-six years on, and Williams has penned his Violin Concerto No. 2 for Anne-Sophie Mutter, who has become something of a muse for the composer since 2017’s Markings and a growing set of violin arrangements of his film themes – three of which end this album.
That this second violin concerto feels somehow more youthful than the first is interesting, given the fact Williams was fast approaching 90 when he finished it. Its vigour can be put down to experience of course, a sense of having less to prove perhaps, but it also responds to Mutter’s own dexterity and skill with an instrument the composer frankly adores. It’s a hugely expressive, deeply atmospheric four-movement work and, like all his concertos, quite far removed from the thematic narrative music we’re all so familiar with. That’s not to say Williams doesn’t paint a vivid picture, and there’s plenty of orchestral drama. Mutter’s singing, lilting, bluesy, scampering violin hungrily eats up the notes, going into battle with timpani and dancing with harp in the dynamic third movement. Her final exhalation, in D major, offers a sweet, reassuring resolution.