David Hurwitz USA CLassics Today 10/10
Il Giardino Armonico is either the most exciting period-instrument band around, or they play like a bunch of pigs. The line between the two is rather thin, actually, given these players' usual take-no-prisoners approach. But here, with the aristocratic Viktoria Mullova playing the living daylights out of the solo parts in nice, modern, virtuoso fashion, the collaboration has the effect of tempering the group's habitual crudeness with no loss of excitement. In short, this is a stunning program, imaginatively conceived for continuous listening, and containing five absolutely wonderful works, none of which has been done to death in the way that The Four Seasons has.
Given Mullova's generally serious demeanor, it's only to be expected that she would select some of Vivaldi's more substantial concertos, including the "Grosso Mogul" RV 208, the C major RV 187, and "Il Favorito" RV 277 (written in a nice, dark E minor). Her timbral smoothness makes the greatest possible contrast to the rough vigor of the opening ritornellos, so much so that her initial entrance in RV 208 at the beginning of the disc comes as something of a shock. Still, contrast is what Baroque concerto form is all about, and the beauty and suppleness of her playing makes her interactions with the orchestral ensemble truly memorable. The central recitative of this same concerto and the plangent slow movement of the C major concerto are particularly memorable, but then it's all pretty extraordinary.
Most fascinating of all, perhaps, is the B minor concerto from "L'Estro Armonico", which Bach later turned into his Concerto for 4 Harpsichords. Here, as equals, all four soloists collaborate to raise the music's energy level to amazing heights without ever compromising their intonation or resorting to that "scratch and scrape" period-instrument sound. It's a wonderful performance that reveals the true potential of the authenticity movement to raise overall standards of musicianship in a way that really serves the work, without resorting to pedantry or inartistic theorizing. Exceptional sonics balance the continuo perfectly within the ensemble and Mullova just as ideally against everyone else. It's great to see her making recordings again--telling evidence of how ridiculous it is for the major labels to be dumping their best, most mature artists in favor of the latest "flavor of the month" Wunderkind. I wish Mullova, and her new label Onyx, continued success. [10/12/2005]
BBC ONLINE - Claire Rogers
It's impossible to find fault with this exceptional disc by Viktoria Mullova, which should satisfy fans of authentic Baroque performance as well as of contemporary violin playing.
Mullova plays her 'Jules Falk' Stradivarius, using gut strings tuned A=415 (standard tuning is A=440) and a baroque bow, and to this adds her incredible technique and Russian-schooled musical discipline (before she defected from the Soviet Union in 1983 she was a student of the formidable and brilliant Russian violinist Leonid Kogan) to successfully fuse these two very different worlds.
The range of bowing techniques she uses in these Vivaldi concertos produces a real feast of effects. The rapid-fire cadenzas of tracks 1 and 3 (the 'Grosso Mogul' concerto) are especially stunning in this respect, as are the fantastic closing stages of track 12.
Mullova also manages to sound completely natural and uncontrived in the complicated improvisatory passages - track 2 of the same concerto is a particularly good example of this. There are moments of huge delicacy and simplicity too, as can be heard in the wistful Andante to the 'Il Favorito' concerto (track 14), and this lighter touch acts as a perfect counterbalance to the gutsier, virtuosic playing of the Allegro movements.
Throughout these concertos Il Giardino Armonico support Mullova in every way. A well-established Baroque ensemble, led by recorder player Giovanni Antonini since 1989, they produce all kinds of different tone-colours and subtle bowing effects, and their playing is consistently rhythmical and exciting even in the softer passages (listen especially to track 3 and the breathtaking track 10).
Released on the relatively new independent record label Onyx, founded by Chris Craker of Sony/BMG and Paul Moseley, this disc is recorded quite close to the performers but is perfectly judged so that all the details are easily heard. Tastefully played and recorded, you can buy this CD with confidence.
BBC Music Magazine ***** Martin Cottton
Mullova is no stranger to gut strings and period performance – she did it memorably in her Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos with Gardiner (Philips, reviewed August 2003), and now she’s teamed up with one of the most sparkling of the Baroque bands around. They have the first word with their vigorous attack in the D major concerto (RV 208), and when Mullova enters, she pushes the tempo even more urgently. In the slow movement, she weaves arabesques around the highly decorated lute and harpsichord continuo with a rubato that’s free and natural, before the finale sees a return to the energy of the opening. Three of the violinists from the ensemble join her in the B minor concerto, making a splendid team, unanimous in rhythm and ornamentation, and in lightness of attack in the central section of the slow movement. For the other three concertos, Mullova’s on her own. The C major is the least exciting, with some formulaic sequences in its outer movements. But the D major (RV 234) has a delightful unpredictability about some of the harmonic progressions, and throughout the disc there’s never any lack of interest in the texture of the music, with variety of articulation and dynamic from the strings and weight in the continuo. The recording is bright and consistently detailed.
Record of the Month September 2005
The sparks really fly here. I savoured every moment of the playing. Excellent - More please!
London Evening Standard 8 June 2005
The resultant sound is so raw it verges on the bucolic, yet phrasing and articulation are immaculate and the confrontational atmosphere is nuclear. This is Vivaldi no holds barred.
London Independent 14 June 2005
Great that the Onyx label was able to launch on the back of such an excellent and rewarding programme (5 stars)
The Guardian (UK) 10 June 2005
An impressive issue..a wonderful sense of Mullova and Il Giardino Armonico functioning as an indivisible unit while Giovanni Antonini's conducting is exceptional
Gramophone 'Editor's Choice' July 2005.
"A thrilling coming together of a top ensemble and a violinist of spectacular virtuosity
Viktoria Mullova isn’t quite a Baroque violinist – her Strad is fitted with gut strings, she’s using a Baroque bow and she plays very stylishly but there’s something about her sound that betrays the modern virtuoso. Her vibrato is modest but it’s used in a way that harks back to her conventional Russian training. Much more important than rating her on a scale of authenticity, however, is to note that it’s top-class violin playing: the rhythms are lively and poised, all the passagework is beautifully clear and exact, and the middle movements of RV208, 187 and 277 are all made to sound truly eloquent. The programme is excellent, too, in the way it shows the wide range of Vivaldi’s imagination. RV187, previously unknown to me, is a lovely piece, full of delightful original touches, in contrast to my least favourite of the five concertos, the better known Grosso Mogul which, despite its brilliance and its satisfying formal design, is oppressively short of significant ideas.
Il Giardino Armonico provide an immensely spirited accompaniment, four members taking the extra solo roles in Op 3 No 10 with great style. Vivaldi’s music needs strong contrasts in performance; it should create a sense of amazement, which these accounts supply in a striking and convincing way. But I’m slightly troubled by the prevalence of ferocious accents, ultra-short off-the-string bowing, and exaggerated dynamic shading. For my taste, the strongest, swiftest bow stroke should retain the character of a gesture, rather than a hammer blow. But whether or not you agree with this, you’re likely to enjoy the vigour, colourful variety and sheer expertise of these performances.
Diapason (France) July/August 2005
L'evenement du mois (Disc of the Month)