Viktoria Mullova

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Festival Music reviews: Viktoria Mullova & Katia LabequeQueen’s Hall, four stars

The Herald Scotland
September 2018

Festival Music

Viktoria Mullova & Katia Labeque

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT IS not too fanciful, I think, to see violinist Viktoria Mullova’s Festival recital, in partnership with pianist Katia Labeque, in terms of her life journey. It is 35 years since her defection from the Soviet Union while on tour in Scandinavia, and the work with which she chose to open, Prokofiev’s fiery solo violin sonata, was written 35 years before that, to a commission from the state for a piece to stretch young players.

If that virtuosic opening was a statement about where she came from, Schumann’s sonata for piano and violin which followed, could be seen as an acknowledgement of her subsequent life at the heart of Western European music as the partner of conductor Claudio Abbado. Although the writing for the first-billed piano is exquisite, the violin always has the “top line”, and Mullova brought lightness of touch to the pretty second movement alongside the turmoil of the outer sections.

After the interval we were enveloped in her mastery of more modern music, for which this duo seems particularly well suited. Insisting that Takemitsu’s Distance de fee and Part’s Fratres were treated as a segue - without intervening applause - was perhaps unnecessary, given the violinist’s extended tuning breaks, but the works certainly pair well, the instrumental combination central to the success of the former and this arrangement of the Part a mesmerising version of a classic modern work - interestingly dating from only a few years before her departure from the Soviet Union and his from Estonia to Germany.

After which Ravel’s Violin Sonata In G might look like dessert, but is nothing of the sort. The most complex and intricate conversation between the two players, it seems like a soundtrack for the twentieth century ahead of its time. Few composers have ever made as effective use of pizzicato string playing as Ravel, but that is just one element in the range of colourful ingredients he deploys in a work that made the jazz musicians whose influence he had absorbed sit up and take notice.