Fanfare - March/April 2010
- CD of the Week -
The ultimate test of a violinist, Old Bach’s testament is more a test of musical personality than mere technique. It’s not how you play, but what you have to say over the course of two hours that separates the conservatory mice from the eternal masters and gives Bach a fresh voice at the contemporary table.
Viktoria Mullova has plenty to say. A product of the Moscow music factory, she fled west after winning the 1982 Tchaikovsky competition and has spent the rest of her life in London unlearning what she was taught for the test. Gone are the emphases on gymnastic speeds and pinpoint accuracy and in comes an awareness of alternative ways in Bach, and in music. Her sound is shaped by 18th century practice and her expression by close engagement with artists as diverse as the jazz-oriented Katia Labeque and the West African beat of Youssu Ndour.
Her eclecticism yields constant surprise in the Bach soliloquies. She takes the slow movements of the second sonata as bathroom-mirror meditations and the fugue of the third almost as a bus-stop conversation, its phrasing oddly reminiscent of London Bridge is Falling Down. There is a ceaseless flow of ideas, not all of them sensible, but the personality is strong and ever-so-slightly elusive. Her narrative does not replace, for me, the intellectual and emotional force of Nathan Milstein and the young Yehudi Menuhin, but it is very much a performance of our time." ****
Evening Standard - 25 March 2009
"The ex-soviet violinist waited a long time before recording these intimate musical statements. She now has the warmth and maturity to make themsound like a dialogue between interpreter and composer. period style has not only become central to her thinking but part of her expressive world. This is not the doleful, soulful Bach of tradition:more a songful Bach, enhanced by Onyx’s spacious acoustic." ****
The Financial Times - 4 April 2009
"In the disarmingly honest sleeve notes, Viktoria Mullova traces her dissatisfaction with her early Russian experiences of playing Bach and her discovery of period instrument techniques. The result is a highly individual combination of baroque flexibility with dramatic intensity. Not for Mullova a wispy,withdrawn period sound: she uses vibrato to focus the note and the violin’s warm resonance is well captured in the recordings. Some movements are rhythmically relentless,but the virtuosity is stunning:the complex fugues in the C major and A minor sonatas are perfectly lucid,and the great D minor chaconne rises to an electrifyingly mid-point climax."
The Observer - 5 April 2009
"Viktoria Mullova’s gradual evolution as a baroque violinist has now reached a crucial stage. In days gone by,as on her early Nineties recording for Philips,she played Bach on her famous "Jules Falk" Stradivarius of 1723, with metal strings and a classical bow. After, she began using gut strings, and then went a step further by opting for a 1750 Guadagnini instrument with a timbre more suited to the particular repertoire. Now she has gone the whole hog and taken up a Baroque-style bow by the modern Italian maker,Walter Barbiero. This set of Bach’s six sole Sonatas and partitas BWV 1001-6 represents the first fruits of Mullova’s full adoption of period of the trade alongside her assimilation of an apposite style of playing.and what remarkable discs they are.
Mullova remains her own woman,refusing to be cowed by the dogmas of the early music police. She uses vibrato,but a subtle form of vibrato that embraces a broad range of delicate inflections and shadings. The tone has her familier brightness,but with a ringing depth to it enriched by her touches of colouring. The Baroque bow-much shorter than a classical one-gives her the sort of flexibility needed for Bach’s intricate, sinewy lines, as can be heard for example,in the spry second "Double" from the B minor Partita No1 or in the mighty "Ciaconna" from the D minor No2.Mullova’s infallible technique shines throughout the two discs, her incisivness paying dividends in the B minor Partita’s bouyant "Tempo di Borea".The slower allemandes are shot through with plangent intensity of expression.This is wonderfully fluent,absorbingly imaginative playing." *****
The Daily Telegraph - 4 April 2009
"Bach’s unaccompanied violin music offers many fiendish challenges in terms of accurately playing the notated music. let alone making expressive sense of it. Viktoria Mullova presents virtually flawless playing but, of greater importance, she sustains an impeccably punctuated, modulated and compelling dialogue through Bach’s counterpoint with seemingly effortless intimacy and charm. She appears to have wholeheartedly embraced the Baroque period instrument ethos: with her mid - 18th century Guadagnini violin, its gut strings and Baroque pitch at A=415, Mullova’s performance has won me over more or less from start to finish.
Comparably less engaging is Julia Fischer’s account in her spelndid Pentatone recording, yet her playing is generally more measured and she allows herself more space within each movement. Mullova, by contrast, is almost invariably brisker, nowwhere more so than in the great D minor Chaconne of the second of the Second Partita and the supremely challenging C major Fuga of the Third Sonata.These movements are brilliantly illuminated by Mullova’s dazzling virtuosity and her wonderfully light bowing which enables her to inflict and punctuate with delicacy.
However I find Mullova’s account of the Fuga of the G minor Sonata a little studied and the Andante of the A minor Sonata,which she dedicates to her daughter, serene but rather cool. Altogether, though, this is playing which is captivating for its stylishness, avoidance of overstatement, geniality and modesty."
**** Performance - ***** Recording
BBC Music Magazine - May 2009
"Russia’s erstwhile ice princess of fiddle - playing writes confessionally in the booklet of her conversion to period style in her baroque music. her Moscow teachers gave her strict rules for playing Bach: "A standardized,beautiful sound,broad sound,broad, uniform articulation,long phrasing....and continous vibratoon every note in imitation, they used to say, of an imaginary organ". Her Pauline moment was the result of an encounter with Marco Postinghel, the baroque bassoonist (and producer of these discs), who encouraged a change to gut strings and baroque bows. a sense of rediscovery in this great music comes across vividly in Mullova’s performances, even if the superb tone of her 1750 Guadagnini violin is richer and more substantial than one expects in "historically aware" interpretations. In line with recent baroque practice, her tempi are fastish, but she still favours a singing legato in the Sciciliana, Andante - an especially personal reading dedicated to her daughter Katia - and Largo of the three sonatas, and the sarabandes of the first and second partitas. She doesn’t drag in the famous Chaconne of the D minor partita, but allows the complex counterpoint to unfold with astonishing clarity and the chords to emerge without the "broken" arpeggiation of traditional performances. Her articulation in the partitas’ fast numbers underlines the origins of the music in dance;her sonata fugues are masterpieces of legerdemain and sonic illusion. these "fusion" performances may not be please hardline purists, but they exemplify the best of old and new stylistic approaches to Bach’s masterpieces." ****
The Sunday Times - 19 April 2009
"Viktoria Mullova has never rested on her laurels, even though starting with her sensational win in the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition she has plenty of them to rest on. this stunning CD is the fruit of of a quest lasting years, as she has gradually distanced herself from being a Bach interpreter, and has found, through baroque instruments and baroque ways of thinking, a new artistic identity. these recordings go straight to the heart." *****
The Independent 2 May 2009
"Since Viktoria Mullova first recorded Bach’s works for solo violin in the late 1990s for Phillips, she has rethougjht her whole approach to baroque music. for this newest set of performances, she has strung her Guadagnini instrument from 1750 with gut, tuned it down to baroque pitch and played it with an 18th - century bow. the result is very different from those impressive if slightly steely, earlier accounts. A trace of the earlier Mullova gives Bach’s lines more freedom to breathe; it’s impossible to imagine the younger, more fiery and austere performer presenting the great Chaconne from the D minr Partita in the amusing, affectionate way she delivers it here. She still winds up the tension in a superbly convincing way, however, just as she dispatches the technical challenges of the fugue in the C major Sonata with tremendous elan. In everything she plays, Mullova’s sense of an ongoing musical line is immaculate and totally unselfconscious, if occasionally just a shade cool and under -characterised; the authority of her performances is never in doubt." ****
The Guardian - 15 May 2009
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