Viktoria Mullova – Artist in Focus … Portrait Concert

Partita in E, BWV1006 – Prelude
Duos for Violin and Cello [transcribed Matthew Barley from 44 Duos for Two Violins]
Weather Report
Pursuit of the Woman [arr. Barley]
John Lewis/Bratsch
Django [arr. Barley]
The Hollies
The Air That I Breathe [arr. Barley]
Colin Matthews
Duo for Violin and Marimba
Er Nemo Klanz [arr. Barley]

Viktoria Mullova (violin), Matthew Barley (cello)
Paul Clarvis & Sam Walton (percussion), Paul Griffiths (guitar), Julian Joseph & Fraser Trainer (piano) and Pete Whyman (clarinet & saxophone)

Reviewed by: Evan Dickerson

Reviewed: 27 September, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Viktoria Mullova has made a reputation as an artist of quality by demonstrating that the music she plays can be thought of afresh rather than simply trotted out once more in a tired fashion. Her approach encompasses a willingness to string her Stradivarius with natural gut when playing baroque music or, as this concert demonstrated, to bring works together in innovative combinations.

Beginning with the ‘Prelude’ to Bach’s Partita in E, Mullova played with fine technique to produce good tone, particularly in the middle and lower registers; only occasionally did she push towards the top. Her reading was thoughtful and emphasised the repetitive nature of Bach’s writing.

Matthew Barley, Mullova’s husband, then proceeded to introduce the first group of arrangements from Bartók’s 44 Duos for two violins, re-scored for violin and cello. The opening Rutherian dance was rather imbalanced in favour of the cello, despite the vibrato-free playing. Others were rather more jocular or forthright in mood. Purists might not have agreed with Barley’s transcriptions, but for audiences unfamiliar with the repertoire, the separation of two normally closely-scored lines could have helped in grasping the inner workings of these short musical snatches. Another set of four transcriptions followed, capturing elements of melancholy and rhythmic humour.

Around the Bartók came arrangements of popular numbers. Weather Report’s “The Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat” and The Hollies’ “The Air that I Breathe”, given in a version for violin, piano and percussion. With rhythmical repetition at the core of the works, opportunities for expression beyond the basic were limited, though Mullova managed to give an arioso feel to the solo line in “The Air that I Breathe”. Julian Joseph brought a sense of freedom to the piano part, from which Paul Clarvis took his cue for improvised percussion contributions.

Barley’s arrangement for quintet (added cello and marimba) of John Lewis’s jazz standard “Django” was at its best when at its most subtle. Colin Matthews’s Duo for violin and marimba continued the now well-established theme of rhythmic obsessiveness within the programmed works. Here Mullova sharpened her attack to suitably partner Sam Walton’s incisive playing.

Post-interval two works were on the programme. Fraser Trainer’s 2003 work Knots, based on a psychological treatise by R. D. Laing of the same title, is in his words a “three-movement violin concerto backed by a six-person ensemble”. Here, balance issues meant that Paul Griffiths’s guitar-playing failed to come across with much impact, whilst Paul Whyman’s alternation between clarinet and saxophone provided only momentary colouring – although his playing was imaginative.

Barley’s final contribution was an arrangement of “Er Nemo Klanz” by the Paris-based gypsy group Bratsch. Why he thought that splicing two pentatonic Bartók dances into the middle added anything, since they were so obviously at odds with the surrounding material, is a mystery. I suspect that, as with the concert as a whole, difference was the entire point. And there could be no denying the obvious musicianship or technical skill that all brought to the evening.

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