The OAE is on top form, with a superstar soloist meeting them on their own terms - the...
Andrew McGregor 2002-11-20
Viktoria Mullova plays Mozart: that's already enough to get my attention. As anyone who's heard her Bach - solo and concertos - can attest, this is a supremely stylish fiddle-player, possessed of a powerful modern technique, but who's always ready to put it at the service of the music rather than imposing her personality on everything she plays. Maybe that's why Mullova has her undeserved ice-queen reputation; we're not used to hearing players of her provenance and prowess placing themselves quietly in the hands of the composer, without the emotional histrionics and interpretative licence taken by some of her peers.
Ok, so I'm already interested...but then you see that this is Mullova with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: period instruments. There's no conductor; she directs them herself...and she's strung her Strad with gut, and plays it with a classical bow.
Now I'm fascinated. But Mullova's going to be compared to the real specialists, the people who've made solo performance on period violins their life's work, your Standages and Huggets, and there are bound to be significant differences. The giveaways are usually found in the right hand; the 21st century violinist often finds it difficult to moderate the power and pressure that's been drilled into them for decades - they can sometimes sound really rough. Not Mullova; while she doesn't have the quicksilver sound and instinctive mastery of the classical bow, and perhaps not quite the full range of tone colours that gut strings can deliver in the hands of a seasoned period instrumentalist, she's fluent, warm, and surprisingly gentle.
Mullova's is one of the great techniques amongst modern players, and obviously that total security is as enjoyable in Mozart as Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich...perhaps even making too light of the cadenzas, newly written by Mullova and Ottavio Dantone. Maybe there's a touch more vibrato at times than you'd expect, especially in the slow movements, yet Mullova also revels in the sound of her gut-strung violin, employing open strings to good effect. The OAE is on top form, obviously enjoying this outing, with a superstar soloist meeting them on their own terms - the finales really dance, and there's an infectious enthusiasm about the whole disc that's refreshing.
Several big names are going back to gut at the moment, but of the violinists Viktoria Mullova's making the best job of it on this evidence. I'd cheerfully, nay, enthusiastically recommend this to her fan-base and anyone interested in period instrument performance. Word is, the next Mullova project is the Beethoven and Mendelssohn Concertos with John Eliot Gardiner. Bring it on...