Viktoria Mullova Bach Recital

Sonata in G for violin and harpsichord, BWV1019
Sonata in A minor, BWV1003
Sonata in C minor for violin and harpsichord, BWV1017
Partita in D minor, BWV1004

Viktoria Mullova (violin) &
Ottavio Dantone (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 20 May, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The prospect of an evening of Bach’s violin music might be thought either intimidating or heavenly. Expectations of Viktoria Mullova’s recital were running high – more chance of disappointment, then – but the angels were in attendance and the result was indeed very close to Heaven.

The programme was cleverly planned, alternating two sonatas for violin and harpsichord with the two works for unaccompanied violin, so there was plenty of light and shade, as well as some of the greatest music ever written.

This would have been to no avail had the actual playing not been so resplendent, which includes the contribution of Ottavio Dantone, no accompanist but a real partner. Mullova’s produced an incredible beauty of sound from the gut strings on her 1723 “Falk” Stradivarius (she has one violin and uses gut and steel strings as the repertoire demands) allied to a technical command and freedom most string players, including Baroque specialists, simply dream about.

I have long thought Arthur Grumiaux to be the last word in this music. To his near-perfect intonation and beauty of sound, Mullova adds sheer joy, freedom and bounce to allegros to give a whole new dimension: the music seems suspended in mid-air as if, once launched in motion, it exists in some miraculous unstoppable continuum, ‘historic’ bowing and rhetoric learnt almost by osmosis. Also, Mullova’s control of double-stopping is special; the Andante of the A minor sonata, basically a song with accompaniment which most players labour over, had the vocal line floating free and the accompaniment sounding as if by another player.

Of the sonatas with harpsichord, the G major, over which Bach laboured long and hard, is a substantial five-movement piece in the form of an arch around an Allegro for harpsichord, finely despatched by Dantone, an excellent player who is also pursuing a career as conductor of the wonderfully named Accademia Bizantina in Ravenna. The other sonata with harpsichord opens with the most sublime Siciliano, a Largo sublimely played here, its theme every bit as memorable as the famous Air from the Third Orchestral Suite.

In a typically generous gesture, following her superlative performance of the Partita’s great concluding Chaconne, Mullova brought back her partner for two encores, one by Bach, and one by Domenico Scarlatti.

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