Viktoria Mullova & Ottavio Dantone

Partita in E for unaccompanied violin, BWV1006
Sonata in E for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV1016
Sonata in F minor for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV1018
Partita in D minor for unaccompanied violin, BWV1004 – Chaconne

Viktoria Mullova (violin) & Ottavio Dantone (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 7 March, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

In May 2004 at the Wigmore Hall Viktoria Mullova and Ottavio Dantone gave two of the other sonatas for violin and harpsichord and Mullova played the D minor Partita, so this recital – with its juxtaposition of two further duo-sonatas and the E major Partita – represented the continuation of an ongoing process. Nearly three years it may have been but, like all best things, it has been worth the wait. The programme also gave Mullova the opportunity to reprise the ‘Chaconne’ from the D minor Partita, surely the ‘Everest’ of violinistic endeavour.

The combination of Mullova and Dantone is a genuine partnership of equals. Indeed, one sensed that Mullova actively enjoys the presence of Dantone, visibly relaxing and relishing the interaction; given this, it might have been preferable to have opened with the Sonata in E and progressed to the Partita. Otherwise, the alternation of ‘solo’ and ‘duo’ worked extremely well, avoiding any hint of monotony.

Mullova now uses gut or steel strings as the repertoire demands and has absorbed the techniques of baroque bowing. She plays the “Falk” Stradivarius and produces an extraordinary beauty of sound, which one seldom encounters from violinists specialised in baroque repertoire. Dantone’s harpsichord was similarly mellow and grateful on the ear (a far cry from Beecham’s jibe that the instrument can sound like two skeletons copulating) and it is welcome news that this duo’s recording of the complete Bach Sonatas will be released in May.

The E major Partita, with which the programme opened, was perhaps the least completely achieved performance of the evening. It was all a little earnest, as if Mullova were trying slightly too hard, and although there was much superb playing one sensed that she was not yet fully at ease. There were even a few very minor slips in the ‘Gavotte’. With the E major Sonata came that elusive sense of joy – the second movement Allegro almost a Polka by Smetana! – whilst there was a gorgeous floated line in the subsequent Adagio (some 50 years after the works were written C.P.E. Bach rightly wrote of the sonatas: “There are some Adagios in them that could not be set today in a more singable fashion”).

The F minor Sonata opens with a sustained lament as inward and elevated in its way as the slow movement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, and it received a performance of infinite subtlety, Mullova’s sustained quiet entries a miracle of bow control, whilst the succeeding Allegro had the freedom of two jazz musicians jamming.

Reserving the very best until last. Mullova then gave the mighty Chaconne, which was as near perfection as one has any right to expect. I have long thought Arthur Grumiaux the last word in this glorious music but there are benefits that are only possible from the conjunction of a great violinist playing on gut strings on a great instrument with an assimilated understanding of performance style. The running passages had breathtaking lightness and tone control, whilst at the heart of the Chaconne there is a brief moment of quiet repose (double-stopped) which came as though it were a voice from an entirely different world, so altered was its tone quality.

For an encore Mullova was rejoined by Dantone to perform a slow movement from one of the other Sonatas.

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