Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Concertos = Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042; Concerto in D Major, BWV 1053; Vioiln Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041; Concerto in C Minor, BWV 1060 – Viktoria Mullova, v./ Accademia Bizantina/ Ottavio Dantone – Onyx

The collaborative efforts of Mullova and Dantone rework some Bach staples, so that new wine may be poured with gusto into old bottles.

Published on June 14, 2013

BACH: Concertos = Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042; Concerto in D Major, BWV 1053; Vioiln Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041; Concerto in C Minor, BWV 1060 – Viktoria Mullova, v./ Accademia Bizantina/ Ottavio Dantone – Onyx 4114, 60:31 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Russian violin virtuoso Viktoria Mullova (b. 1959) turns her attentions to J.S. Bach, taking from his many-stringed harp (rec. 1-5 December 2012) the art of transcription. While Mullova performs the two standard solo Bach violin concertos, she and conductor Dantone agreed to transform the E Major Klavier Concerto (itself likely an oboe d’amore concerto originally) into a violin concerto, toned down a full step to maintain its bright coloration. The two-harpsichord Concerto in C Minor, often played with violin and oboe, likewise conforms to their aesthetic of sonorous experimentation, what Dantone calls its “inventive brilliance in performance.”

The most immediate qualities of the standard E Major Concerto realization are its brisk tempos and acid attacks, played with an emphasis on the tip-of-the-bow staccato phrasing, making Bach sound more like Vivaldi, than the usual reversed effect. Mullova herself opens the proceedings in the E Major (Klavier) Concerto, Dantone’s pert harpsichord figured bass quite active. Here, in its initial Allegro movement, Mullova leans into the phrases with more rubato and “romantic” mannerism. We might wonder if she’s been listening to old Edwin Fischer records. Mullova’s flexibility in the vocal line reminds us that Bach himself reused this music in two cantatas. The pearl amidst this ache of musical treasure lies in the Siciliano movement, which casts a romantic aura entirely its own. Intimacy and ardor combine so that the salon assumes the proportions of one’s personal temple. The gaily bedight final Allegro whisks its way forward in spry colors, the supporting parts quite as busy as fiddler Mullova. Once more, Mullova adds those romantic sighs in the phrases that will captivate or displease, according to one’s own Baroque aesthetic.

The A Minor Violin Concerto always strikes me as the more severe of the two, yet here too, Mullova’s quick pulse and intensity of attack make the concerto move with determined fancy whose long lines retain poise and articulation. Mullova draws an exceedingly long thread out of the Andante melody, with its moody harmonic background. The movement assumes the grand solemnity of a passion processional, exalted, intimate and mystical, at once. The natural ability of Bach to find a dance even in the midst of tragedy asserts itself in the last movement Allegro assai, even if the affect might appropriate to a wake. The somber moto perpetuo dances and cavorts with its chains, an often contrapuntal version of Dylan Thomas’ refusal to go gently into that “good night.”

The unsentimental tempo of the opening Allegro of the C Minor Concerto belies the studied passion that Mullova invests into its strict lines. Dantone’s busy harpsichord and the string continuo support Mullova’s concertante playing, the effect’s often resembling the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. While I miss the oboe realization in the amazing Adagio, the interplay of Mullova and Dantone makes a mesmerizing dance-love-song over the pizzicato bass. A festive spirit – with uncanny, light feet – certainly concludes both the concerto and the disc itself, a vibrant if tastefully mannered series of readings by thoughtful musicians with their distinctive viewpoint, supported by ravishing technique.

—Gary Lemco




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