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Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Twentieth-Century Violin Concertos
Disc 1
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Violin Concerto in D (1931) [20:37] *
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No.2, BB117 (1939) [35:52] ^
Disc 2
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, op. 99 (1948) [33:53] #
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.63 (1935) [26:52] #
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen*^, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn #.
rec. Long Beach Terrace Theatre, Long Beach, May 1997 *; Todd-AO Studios, Hollywood, May 1997 ^; London, June 1988 #. DDD
PHILIPS 475-7457 [56:44 + 61:04]

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Viktoria Mullova disappeared from Philips' roster of active recording artists a few years ago.  She recently reappeared on the independent label, Onyx, with a few new recordings that have garnered great praise.  Philips, perhaps urged on by her new successes as much as by the ever-present back catalogue imperative, is re-releasing most of Mullova's old Philips discs as bargain-priced twofers. 

This particular volume is a winner, bringing together four of the great violin concertos of the last century in performances that range from good to exceptional.

The Stravinsky concerto opens the first disc, and Mullova delivers a sparkling performance.  Her cool approach suits this quintessentially neo-classical score, and Mullova's execution is polished and pin-point accurate.  There is beauty here too, with the second aria (the third movement) bringing some lovely inward playing.  Salonen and the LA Philharmonic do more than simply accompany their soloist, contributing a clean, pointed performance and a sense of a real dialogue between violin and orchestra.  Sadly, this is undercut by the up-close miking of the violin, but not enough to dispel the magic of this performance.  This reading of the Stravinsky is a match for any I have heard, and now displaces Kyung Wha Chung's reading - with Previn and the LSO on Decca - at the top of my personal list.

Mullova's performance of the Bartók is also excellent, though not as emotionally intense as some.  I generally prefer the warmer approach of Shaham and even Menuhin, but Mullova's technique is simply dazzling.  The slow movement is lyrical rather than romantic.  Indeed, this performance almost makes the piece sound as if it belongs to the neo-classical world of the Stravinsky.  Mullova may not win you over on first hearing, but this reading has been growing on me with each repetition.  Again, Salonen impresses and his orchestra is vividly caught, though again placed very decidedly behind the soloist.

Disc one, then, is superb.  What of disc two?

Mullova is imposing in Shostakovich's first concerto.  Her performance has considerable bravura, and she is not afraid to make some ugly sounds.  What Mullova misses, though, is the drama behind the notes, ugly sounds notwithstanding, and a coherent view of the piece.  Leaving aside Oistrakh's benchmark performances, Mullova fails to quite match the best of her digitally recorded rivals.  This concerto is very well represented in the catalogue and in this price bracket both Sitkovetsky on Virgin classics and Kaler on Naxos are more penetrating and present a better integrated conception of the composer's vision.  Previn's accompaniment is adequate, but not inspired.

With Prokofiev's second concerto, however, Mullova is back to her best.  She is a lyrical guide to this piece, and gives a performance of freshness and innocence.  Previn suffuses the score with warmth, lovingly recalling Prokofiev's references to his ballet, Romeo and Juliet.  Despite the violin again dominating the sound picture, this performance is as good as any I know in any price bracket.

This reissue brings together superb recordings of the Stravinsky and Prokofiev concertos, an excellent alternative reading of the Bartók and a decent performance of the Shostakovich.  Great value from a greatly underrated artist.

Tim Perry


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