Recorded in Paris, 10-13 November 2005, violinist Mullova and pianist Labeque indulge in some alternately waspish and graceful sounds in the course of an intimate recital of diverse musical styles. They open with excerpts from Pulcinella, Stravinsky’s six-movement suite (1933) after Pergolesi materials (whose own authenticity is always suspect). The Tarantella has both Mullova and Labeque’s fingers in ceaseless motion. In the arrangement by Samual Dushkin, Gavotte and Two Variations occupies the center of the suite, its neo-classical lines held in demure poise by these artists. A shimmeringly nervous Scherzino leads to the Menuetto and Finale, at first stately and then breezily facile for the conclusion. In several respects of tone and articulation, Mullova reminds me of Joseph Szigeti.
Schubert’s 1827 Fantasie for Violin and Piano is his most ambitious, bravura chamber piece. In four movements that subdivide–based on his own lied, Sei mir gegruesst, which dominates the Andantino movement–Schubert created a pattern that Liszt and Schoenberg would imitate. Labeque has the initial, water imagery all to herself as the violin glides over the subdued waves. Mullova’s high flute tone and Labeque’s rippling arpeggios segue to the sparkling Allegretto, all played with deftly light hands, quite ravishing. More instances of musical effervescence in the variations on I Hail to Thee, D. 741, not the least of which is the pizzicati motion from Mullova over brilliant, virtuoso runs by Labeque. The splendid collaboration for the Allegro vivace quakes with electrical emotion and silky application of a veritable witches‚ cauldron of pyrotechnics. The water music returns prior to the coda, touched by quotations from the song of endearment, a safe harbor in the midst of often blazing passions.
Ravel’s 1927 evolves an antagonistic aesthetic so far as the violin and piano are concerned, Ravel having expressed his feeling the two instruments were incompatible. The piano’s glinting percussion places the violin’s songful, serpentine lyricism into relief. When the violin decides to sizzle, Mullova has her own minor conflagration of sound. The Blues movement proffers a Viktoria Mullova who gives Stephan Grappelli a run for his money; and we know Ms. Labeque can do blues because we have heard her Gershwin. Perhaps the twangiest pizzicati on classical records! The sheer motor power of the last movement moto perpetuo recalls the last movement of the G Major Piano Concerto. A superheated account, a frying pan of eddying effects.
Clara Schumann’s petite Romanze (1853) proves a soothing encore after the electrifying bravura of the Ravel. Composed for Joseph Joachim, it provides only gentle tugs at the minor keys to disturb its otherwise serene vision of spiritual life.
— Gary Lemco