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.
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
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.
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
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