It is with no intended disrespect to the superb French pianist Katia
Labèque that I have initially focused on the talents of Russian-born
violinist Viktoria Mullova. I have followed
her colourful career with great interest since she came
to world attention in 1983 when she defected from Soviet Russia
in a daring dash from a recital tour in Finland to claim political
asylum in Sweden. Mullova’s prowess in the great violin concertos
of the repertoire is well known and I treasure her Philips recordings
of the two Mendelssohn concertos under Neville Marriner; the
Brahms Violin Concerto under Claudio Abbado; the Shostakovich
Violin concerto No. 1 and the Prokofiev Violin concerto No.2
under Andre Previn; the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos
under Seiji Ozawa and others.
the last four years or so her conversion to authentic instrument
performance, using gut strings and period bows, has been a revelation.
Commencing with her marvellous recording of Mozart’s Violin
Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 4 both playing and directing the Orchestra
of the Age of Enlightenment in 2001 at Hampstead, London on
Philips 470 292-2; the Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos
with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique under John
Eliot Gardiner from Watford, England in 2002 on Philips 473
872-2 and her 2004 Cremona, Italy recordings of five Vivaldi
Violin Concertos with Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini
on Onyx 4001.
I include Mullova leading the Mullova Ensemble in a performance
of the Schubert Octet, D803 this recording is, I guess, her
third Onyx release. Here she has joined with recital partner
Katia Labèque for a recording of an attractive programme that
they have been and are currently touring with. This spans a
hundred years from the infrequently performed Schubert Fantasy
of 1827 to Ravel’s Sonata of 1927 and a 1933 arrangement
of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.
first work is Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne which was
arranged from his ballet Pulcinella. Pulcinella
was composed in 1919-20 on a request from Diaghilev and the
Ballet Russes in Paris for a work that used both the
choreography of Massine and Picasso’s designs for scenery and
costumes. Sometimes known as a ‘ballet with songs’ the score
draws on the melodies of Giovanni Pergolesi and uses Baroque
dance structures with neo-classical rhythms. In 1922 Stravinsky
transcribed the score into a Concert Suite for small
orchestra. He also drew on Pulcinella for two separate
suites for violin and piano; the first a Suite in 1925.
Later, in 1933, together with the violinist Samuel Dushkin,
he transcribed a second suite in six movements entitled Suite
is immediately struck by the confident attack and bite that
Mullova and Labèque display in the opening movement. In the
serenata: larghetto they do not linger, placing
plenty of air around the music. I experienced the pizzicato
section between point 1:12-1:22 (track 2) as closely caught
by the microphone. Mullova dances through the music in the tarantella:
vivace at breakneck speed, maintaining complete control
and in the gavotte they provide courtly rhythms, played
with style and poise. In the scherzino the partnership
gallop along with vivacity and vigour and are secure and expressive
amid the contrasting moods of the final movement minuetto.
composed his four movement Fantasy in C major in 1827
for the Czech violinist Josef Slawjk, not long before completing
his Symphony No. 9. As with the Trout Quintet
and the Wanderer Fantasy Schubert incorporates one of
his own songs. Here he uses his song to a Rückert text Sei
mir gegrüsst (I greet you) D741 from 1822 in the
extended third movement andantino.
the opening movement andante molto Mullova and Labèque
supply gentle and refined playing, with feather-like delicacy
and in the allegretto they display considerable vivaciousness,
staying impressively light on their feet. With the lengthy and
melodious andantino Schubert has composed a showpiece
movement to entertainment a recital audience. I loved the way
the duo provide necessary episodes of poignancy contrasted
with playing of boisterous playfulness. In Schubert’s high-spirited
concluding movement the players gradually develop an impressive
intensity with effervescent and buoyant playing.
between 1923 and 1927 Ravel’s Sonata is, it seems, becoming
increasingly popular both in recital and in the recording studio.
Earlier this year I attended a positive and personable performance
of the score played by the promising Jennifer Pike, the 2002
‘BBC Young Musician of the Year’ and pianist Gordon Black. Ravel’s
score had a chequered evolution. At the time of its composition
he was ill from depression and the work’s dedicatee violinist
Hélène Jourdan-Morhange was unable to play owing to a disorder
that affected her movement. Eventually Georges Enescu premiered
it evidently from memory after reading through the score only
once. Enescu's protégé the young Yehudi Menuhin was in the audience
to witness this tremendous feat.
the extended opening allegretto Mullova and Labèque play
with deep concentration, expertly navigating a resolute course
through Ravel’s tricky and complex writing. Any doubts I harboured
about how Mullova would interpret the jazzy central movement
blues: moderato were immediately dashed. She turns
in a remarkable performance that reminded me of jazz legend
Stéphane Grappelli (1908-1997). In the final movement marked
perpetuum mobile: allegro the partnership perform
with verve and dazzling technical assurance.
are a whole host of recordings of Ravel’s Violin Sonata
in the catalogues. My preferred version is the stylish and sensitively
expressive reading from violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist
Frank Braley, recorded in 2001 in Sion, Switzerland, on Virgin
Classics 5 45492 2. Other recordings that are likely to be encountered
are those from Arthur Grumiaux and István Hajdu, from, I believe,
1962, on both Philips 4541342 and also Australian Philips Eloquence
468 306-2. There’s a reading from Christian Tetzlaff and Leif
Ove Andsnes on both Virgin 5 45122- 2 and Virgin Classics 6020162
and there’s also an interpretation from Vadim Repin and Boris
Berezovsky in 1996 in Berlin on Erato 0630-15110-2.
final work on this Onyx release is Clara Schumann’s Romance
No. 1 from a set of three that she composed in 1853 for
the eminent soloist violin Joseph Joachim. The short D flat
major Romance marked andante molto, the first of
the Three Romances, is pleasant if unremarkable.
Mullova and Labèque provide fine playing amid episodes of growing
tension soon to be alleviated. One wonders why the two remaining
movements Romances were not included as the rather ungenerous
timing allows plenty of space.
note that Katia Labèque was the executive producer for this
disc. I experienced a clear and well-balanced sound containing
a cool and rather dry quality.
annotation is of a high standard, although I would have liked
more detailed information.
is an excellently performed and recorded recital worthy of considerable
attention, that was received too late for my list of ‘records
of the year’. I wonder if Mullova and Labèque have considered
exploring any of the sonatas; suites and elegies for violin
and piano of the British late-Romantics such as Elgar, Eugene
Goossens, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Finzi, Parry, Bantock, Bowen,
Dunhill and Walton.
the ONYX Catalogue