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Viktoria Mullova - Recital - Katia Labeque

AUDIOPHILE EDITION - July 20, 2007 - Gary Lemco
Recorded in Paris, 10-13 November 2005, violinist Mullova and pianist Labeque indulge in some alternately waspish and graceful sounds in the course of an intimate recital of diverse musical styles. They open with excerpts from Pulcinella, Stravinsky's six-movement suite (1933) after Pergolesi materials (whose own authenticity is always suspect). The Tarantella has both Mullova and Labeque's fingers in ceaseless motion. In the arrangement by Samual Dushkin, Gavotte and Two Variations occupies the center of the suite, its neo-classical lines held in demure poise by these artists. A shimmeringly nervous Scherzino leads to the Menuetto and Finale, at first stately and then breezily facile for the conclusion. In several respects of tone and articulation, Mullova reminds me of Joseph Szigeti.
Schubert's 1827 Fantasie for Violin and Piano is his most ambitious, bravura chamber piece. In four movements that subdivide--based on his own lied, Sei mir gegruesst, which dominates the Andantino movement--Schubert created a pattern that Liszt and Schoenberg would imitate. Labeque has the initial, water imagery all to herself as the violin glides over the subdued waves. Mullova's high flute tone and Labeque's rippling arpeggios segue to the sparkling Allegretto, all played with deftly light hands, quite ravishing. More instances of musical effervescence in the variations on I Hail to Thee, D. 741, not the least of which is the pizzicati motion from Mullova over brilliant, virtuoso runs by Labeque. The splendid collaboration for the Allegro vivace quakes with electrical emotion and silky application of a veritable witches‚ cauldron of pyrotechnics. The water music returns prior to the coda, touched by quotations from the song of endearment, a safe harbor in the midst of often blazing passions.
Ravel's 1927 evolves an antagonistic aesthetic so far as the violin and piano are concerned, Ravel having expressed his feeling the two instruments were incompatible. The piano's glinting percussion places the violin's songful, serpentine lyricism into relief. When the violin decides to sizzle, Mullova has her own minor conflagration of sound. The Blues movement proffers a Viktoria Mullova who gives Stephan Grappelli a run for his money; and we know Ms. Labeque can do blues because we have heard her Gershwin. Perhaps the twangiest pizzicati on classical records! The sheer motor power of the last movement moto perpetuo recalls the last movement of the G Major Piano Concerto. A superheated account, a frying pan of eddying effects.
Clara Schumann's petite Romanze (1853) proves a soothing encore after the electrifying bravura of the Ravel. Composed for Joseph Joachim, it provides only gentle tugs at the minor keys to disturb its otherwise serene vision of spiritual life.

She [Mullova] and Katia Labèque make a bravura duo…For the close and congenial collaboration that this program displays in every measure, as well as for the program itself, the recital deserves
a recommendation of pressing urgency, one that the names themselves almost guarantee in this kind of repertoire. 
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE  - JAN 2007 - ***** Christopher Dingle
Many big-name duos have the appearance and sounds of marrriages of convenience, brought together by record companies during a brief window in hectic schedules to spend a couple of days in the studio. Sometimes it works, but the results often reflect the superficiality of the relationship. There is no danger of that in this marvellous new disc from Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labeque. They have been performing together regularly for years, and this disc has the feel of a genuine recital, a true partnership.
The hushed opening of Schubert's Fantasie is magical, with the early mist gradually clearing for a journey full of genial joie de vivre. Mullova's slides in Ravel's Sonata, captured in fine sound, have the fluidity and freedom that can only be achieved when understanding between violinist and pianist runs deep, while the pacing of the Perpetuum mobile is masterly. It might be thought that the Ravel would be closest in spirit to Stravinsky, but the Schubert emerges as its more natural partner. Not that the Suite Italienne is at all lacking in elan, though some might prefer a more driven rhythmic approach. Clara Schumann's Romanze is a sublime postlude to an imaginative and enjoyable disc. 
Sunday Times UK - 12.11.06- Hugh Canning ****
This Onyx and KML (for Katia and Marielle Labèque) co-production highlights the advantages of artist-led programming on disc. Mullova and Labèque would hardly be permitted to record such an eclectic selection — Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Schubert’s Fantasy in C, Ravel’s Violin and Piano Sonata, and a Clara Schumann Romance — for one of the multinational labels at present. The playing is deeply rewarding in their glittering accounts of the Stravinsky suite — the 1933 transcription of Pulicinella — and the Ravel sonata, Mullova revelling in the jazzy glissandi of the central blues movement.

If one has heard more inward accounts of the Schubert, the virtuosity here is never in doubt, and the Clara piece is a charming rarity. Highly recommended.
Music Web International - 25.11.06- Recording of the Month
This is an excellently performed and recorded recital worthy of considerable attention, that was received too late for my list of ‘records of the year’ (Michael Cookson)
Bob Neill- www.positive-feedback.com   December 2006
Most of us know Viktora Mullova, one of the world's very few great violinists. Those who also know Katia Labeque probably know her as half of the much admired piano duo of Katia and Marielle Labeque. And now, some of us will know her as the fully equal half of this wonderful violin/piano duo. We are told in the album notes that these two musicians have played this 'recital' many times together. For those of us who are Mullova fans, the album is the latest in her rebirth as a recorded musician. And it is a fine one.
To wit:
Stravinsky's Suite Italienne.  Mullova and Labeque play this classic suite adapted from the composer's Pulcinella with more contrasting moods than I am accustomed to hearing in it. They make us more aware of the modern composer than the eighteenth century one from whom Stravinsky 'borrowed' its theme. They jump from lyrical to robust and back again, where others (Isabelle Van Keulen and Olli Mustonen, for example) play within a narrower range of moods and at a slower pace to produce a more bittersweet, almost sentimental piece. I love the energy and directness of the Mullova/Labeque approach and admire their willingness to make this utterly charming music new. Van Keulen and Mustonen have been my standard for years (there are several fine adaptations of the work for cello and piano too—Tashi's with cellist Fred Sherry is terrific); but there is room in our heads for this one too. Whether or not over time it will come to make Van Keulen/Mustonen sound too easy or whether, on the other hand, it will lose its freshness will be interesting. Mullova has a way of becoming definitive! Have you heard her Sibelius Violin concerto recently?
Schubert, Fantasie for Violin and Piano, D. 934.  The Schubert piece is programmed immediately after the Stravinsky, and it takes us to another musical world entirely. What is consistent is the sense of control Mullova and Labeque maintain over the music. It is exquisitely lyrical, but the voices of the two instruments are strikingly firm and clear. This music, which could easily become soporifically sweet in softer, more indulgent hands, comes to us like a Keats poem: as crisp as it is romantic. As the piece progresses, I am reminded of Alain Planès' Schubert Piano Sonata cycle, in its ability to forcefully and effectively re-imagine this music. It sometimes takes major musicians to persuade us that a piece of music in the canon is truly significant. Mullova and Labeque do that with this work.
Ravel, Sonata for Violin and Piano. Ravel needs the same firmness and clarity to make his case as Schubert does. Boulez has shown us this with the composer's orchestral music; Mullova and Labeque do it for this staple of the violin and piano repertoire. Labeque blooms in this work—the piano is no mere accompanying voice in this sonata. And Mullova's violin bristles as forcefully as it sings. Another arresting and satisfying performance.
Clara Schumann, Romance for Violin and Piano. The recital ends with a brief rapturous romance by the renowned wife of Robert Schumann, who, as this music reminds us, has a strong musical personality of her own. Both Mullova and Labeque bring an eloquent restraint to the work, which suits its modesty and beauty. It is a piece that is over almost before it begins, leaving a fine taste in our ears.
This is a wonderful recording, with sound as good as the music-making.
Increasingly, I prefer recitals with mixed programs to, say, recordings of all the Chopin etudes or ballades, and this one is one of my favorites. It includes Stravinsky's tunefully infectious Neo-Classical "Suite Italienne" ("After Pulcinella"), Schubert's major Fantasie in C Major, D. 934; Ravel's jazz-laden Sonata for Violin and Piano; and Clara Schumann's rarely heard Romance for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, No. 1.
The playing on both parts offers a fine mix of virtuosity and blending. The sonics are excellent. And the label is a recently founded one that offers a new home to world-class artists who have been dropped by bigger, more prestigious labels more intent on turning a bigger profit with bigger stars and more popular repertoire.
So just put this on the player and sit back for an hour of wonderful violin and piano duets.