Liya Petrova plays Beethoven and Mozart [Mirare]

4 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Violin Concerto in D, K271a/K271i

Liya Petrova (violin)

Sinfonia Varsovia
Jean-Jacques Kantorow

Recorded September 14-18 2020 at the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw, Poland

Reviewed by: Ateş Orga

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Mirare MIR552
Duration: 78 minutes



Liya Petrova – Bulgarian-born, Paris-based, Brussels/Berlin/Lausanne trained (her teachers including Augustin Duman, Antje Weithaas and Renaud Capuçon) – was joint-winner of the 2016 Carl Nielsen Competition in Odense. Her 2018 Orchid Classics disc of Prokofiev and Nielsen concertos, an insightfully stimulating collaboration with the Estonian conductor Kristiina Poska, has won understandably high praise. Elegant in deportment, brow furrowed in concentration, eyes largely closed yet permitting an occasional quiet smile in the tuttis, she’s a confiding player given to neither histrionics nor gratuitous showmanship. She gets out of her 1735 Bergonzi ‘Helios’ violin a beautifully centered and sweet tone, glass-cut when needed without ever becoming harsh or nervy. Coloratura vocals underline her approach to the instrument, each note, ornament and run articulated and placed, time to breathe fundamental to her thinking. Her culture, humbleness and confessional, conversational style of music-making puts me in mind of Vilda Frang, Alina Pogostkina, Noa Wildschut.

Anyone braving the Beethoven Concerto enters a densely competitive field. Poet rather than warrior, fine sentiments before projected arrows, Petrova stands her ground. Loyalty to Beethoven, the notes on the page – down to adapting his kettle-drummed piano transcription cadenza (what an extraordinary invention this is) – are her priority, not referencing others. She delivers purity and open-plain paragraphing, gracing the phrases to rise and fall through their developmental, devotional, terpsichorean journey. Jean-Jacques Kantorow’s 1984 recording with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra (Kreisler cadenzas), favoured a quicker overall tempo. Never one to stay in a rut, he adapts sympathetically to her different, more intimate perspective, crafting a noble structure and nurturing the Sinfonia Varsovia to bring their own pedigree lights and corporate strengths to bear. Cased in amber resonance, these must have been happy sessions.

The novelty of the album is the ‘Mozart’ Concerto. “If it’s not by Mozart, we’ve overlooked another genius!” Petrova declares. “I find in the entire Concerto no music which I in earnest would put in a claim for Mozart”, Hermann Schmid counters (Mozart Studien, 1999). Menuhin was fond of it. During the Stalin era David Oistrakh recorded it with Kirill Kondrashin (vigorously!). Henryk Szeryng and Karl Böhm programmed it in Salzburg in 1973. Published in 1907, the Neue Mozart Ausgabe (1980) relegates it to doubtful authenticity status, questioning authorship. The ‘facts’ are blurred. Possibly composed/sketched in 1777, two years after the familiar Mozart violin canon, perhaps revised in the 1780s (the manuscript such as it was passing subsequently into François Habeneck’s hands, since lost). Possibly arranged/realised by someone else (Kreutzer?), anticipating/actualising post-1800 French playing techniques. Possibly supplemented/completed by one of two Frenchmen: Pierre Baillot (died 1842) or his son-in-law Eugène Sauzay who in 1837, allegedly following Habeneck’s partitur, wrote out a set of parts including cadenzas (private collection, Paris). Possibly an arrangement/copy by Mozart from a third-party source. Possibly a forgery.

Current scholarship is divided. I don’t have particular issue with the harmonic language of the music, though occasional grammatical, melodic or phraseological idiosyncracies pause me to reflect. However, in the context of Mozart’s overall concerto output, even acknowledging his more capricious fantasies, the formal design of the first movement leaves me instinctively uneasy. Why the violino principale in a marginally longer alternative text purportedly “after the autograph” (Aloys Fuchs collection, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, basis of the first edition and NMA) is written at the foot of the score, not Mozart’s customary practice, is odd. The finale’s wrong-key references to the Gavotte joyeuse from Mozart’s short-lived Paris ‘pantomime’ Les petits riens (1778) – undiscovered in the Paris Opéra archives for nearly a century – puzzle. Was the tune bona fide Wolfgangus or common stock street song? Chronologically, dependent on when events reached whatever ‘definitive’ shape they were going to have, did its inclusion pre- or post-date the ballet?

This ‘French’ concerto, with its alternative ‘Paris’ and ‘Berlin’ cadenzas, may have foggy origins and anomalies – who really inked in those notes, when, where, for whom? – but, leaving forensics and musicology out of the equation, its appeal isn’t surprising. It has undeniable charm and imagination, particularly in the dancing ‘period’ gallantry of the Rondo and the novel if anachronistic pizzicato coloration of the G-major Andante. Liya Petrova’s affection is sincere. She gives a poised, soaring performance. And, like Menuhin and Enescu in 1932, she has a stroke of genius up her sleeve: a brilliantly arresting set of cadenzas from Jean-Frédéric Neuburger (born 1986), a Parisian whose sense of scale, function and throw-back decorum is acute. As she says, “little works in their own right, like islands in the sea”. That of the slow movement, entirely pizzicato ‘alla chitarra’, proves a magically haunting interlude. I often judge string players on the quality and tone of their pizzicato production – the better, more musical they are, the more beautiful and sonorously shaped the outcome. Petrova is exceptional. High artistry.

So, what will she do next. Mozart’s Third and Fifth Concertos coupled with the single-movement of Beethoven’s early Viennese C-major fragment would be nice.

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