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Viktoria Mullova - Bach Sonatas- Dantone


Since the mid-1980s Viktoria Mullova's approach to baroque repertoire has evolved by leaps and bounds, not only for her use of gut strings and baroque bow, but also for the intelligence and musicality with which she has adapted and internalized historically informed performance practices. Her superb Bach sonata collaborations with Ottavio Dantone attest to this on every level. In contrast to the steady breadth James Ehnes and Luc Beauséjour bring to the slow movements, Mullova and Dantone generally play quicker and freer with the pulse, helped by the harpsichordist's imaginative yet never obtrusive embellishments. The musicians mark Bach's extraordinary harmonic felicities by subtle changes of color and gentle accents. Faster movements are incisive and buoyant, yet with top priority given to melodic shaping and clearly delineated imitative sequences (the E major sonata's finale, for example). The G major BWV 1021 sonata takes on a darkly expressive quality with the addition of a lute, while an effective and gorgeously executed transcription of the C major Trio Sonata (BWV 529) caps this vividly engineered release. Among the numerous world-class Bach sonata cycles available on CD, Mullova and Dantone easily merit reference status. [8/7/2007]


Viktoria Mullova and Ottavio Dantone turn in smashing performances of Bach's six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, plus two additional items: a transcription of Trio Sonata No. 5 (for organ/clavichord) and the Sonata in G for Violin and Continuo BWV 1021. Bach's violin sonatas use the "church sonata" form; that is, they usually have opening slow movements and no quick movements modeled on dance forms. They are also unique in that they are in fact true duets between the right hand of the keyboard player and the violin, rather than solo works in which the violin sings while the harpsichord accompanies with the continuo part. This poses a challenge to the keyboard player, particularly on the harpsichord, since that instrument is notably deficient in the one quality that the violin has in abundance: a warm, singing legato.

Happily, Dantone and Mullova understand the challenges and meet them triumphantly. For Mullova, this means understanding when to hold back and let her partner lead. For Dantone, it's a question of touch and, most importantly, choosing an instrument with a sweet, vibrant tone and none of the traditional clatter that characterizes so many harpsichords, both ancient and modern. If you want to hear this partnership at its most inspired, start with the opening movement of the E major sonata. Always a particularly luminous key for some reason, here the music positively glows with an inner light at a perfectly flowing tempo. The big opening Adagio of the F minor sonata also has striking depth of feeling while all of the allegros sparkle in delightful interplay between the two melodic protagonists. In short, this is really exceptional music making, ideally engineered so as to achieve perfect balances between the violin and the keyboard. Don't miss it.

EARLY MUSIC AMERICA - 11.07 Craig Zeichner

Rising to the challenge of the music are these superb
performances...Mullova plays with an angel's breath feathery touch in the gorgeous Largo movements...She also has muscle and energy aplenty when she bites into the extroverted passages...Mullova plays with big tone, big gestures, and big heart throughout.  Dantone is, in some ways, a scene stealer.  He embellishes with wit and taste and ups the ante rhythmically throughout."


Mullova has shown in the past that she is very much a classicist, and,given the opportunity, she shows her considerable understanding of the mechanics of music from the German tradition. She wisely lets the keyboard player take the lead, no doubt as the composer intended. This release is blessed with very full, clear, natural recorded sound like the finest analog.



"The Mullova Dantone combination is a winning one 
Mullova's warm tone and lightly articulated playing - the Allegro of the A major Sonata affords a particularly rewarding instance - are substantial rewards in themselves, but over and above these she and her keyboard partner prove a stylish and sympathetically matched duo." (Nicholas Anderson)
THE TIMES - Geoff Brown 29 June 2007 ****
The Ice Queen was the old journalistic tag for Viktoria Mullova. But it's better buried: the Russian-born violinist, now in her late forties, inflects her playing, as she inflects her career, with obvious emotional intensity.
She made her recording name in the late 1980s, playing the big concertos for Philips Classics. But then the men in suits got number-crunching. Result: the end of her contract and, in 2005, the start of a new life, with greater freedom, at the new label Onyx Classics, dedicated to giving artists as much control as they desire.
With Mullova, this means playing with gut strings on her precious 1750 Guadagnini. Her passion for period instruments is well known, but this new release of Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-19) takes her deeper into Baroque repertory than before. The recording's quite close: you can't escape from the edge in her tone, especially in slow movements. Yet this Onyx two-disc set with the fiery Ottavio Dantone (mostly on harpsichord) equally celebrates Mullova's gentler side. The fourth sonata's opening largo purrs with restrained lyricism while the fifth's largo, gravely beautiful, sounds the depths. There's not a dull note anywhere.
Bach being Bach, Mullova's old knack for clinical excellence isn't wasted. Both players need extreme manual dexterity. Yet the counterpoint in these sonatas crackles with fire, and the relationship between violin and keyboard (are they colleagues or rivals, master or slave?) changes as often as the instrumental colours.
The kaleidoscope dazzles the most in the two additional sonatas for violin and continuo. In the first of them, BWV 529, Mullova sits back happily in a richly textured ensemble sound characterised by the extreme rhythmic thrust of lute and viola da gamba and the bright treble piping of Dantone's positive organ. No one could listen to this and still harbour the cliche of Bach's counterpoint being dry, the stitching of a sewing machine.
Gone are the days when Viktoria Mullova was thought of as a cold sort of musician. That was always an undeserved reputation, based on her efficient technique. Her playing of Bach has always been special, an alliance of her gorgeous, imaginatively coloured sound with deep musical and spiritual insights. Here, in the six sublime sonatas for violin and harpsichord, she weaves her spell again, together with the harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone. The interplay between the pair speaks of an intimate artistic bond, their ensemble miraculously unanimous even in the hypnotic slow movements that characterise the set.
Viktoria Mullova has found her natural home in Bach's Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord . The strength and sweetness of her sound
and her athletic bowing adapt well and although Ottavio Dantone sounds like Christoph Rousset without the decorative elan, their phrasing is hand in glove. Most exciting is the way Mullova has found new colours in the F Minor Sonata, and a sense of fun in the Trio Sonata, with gamba player Vittorio Ghielmi, lutenist Luca Pianca and Dantone on organ.