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Reviews: Beethoven/Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos - Mullova/Gardiner

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Reviews: 2

Review by John Manning August 26, 2005 (13 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I approached this SACD with caution for several reasons - firstly I had been disappointed with 2 Philips SACDs of live concerts; this one is happily not live. Secondly I prefer modern instruments to period, and thirdly I had not had the opportunity to listen in any depth to the soloist, Viktoria Mullova, previously.
For those wishing to jump to the conclusion, I had no need to worry on any count and this is an excellently played and recorded disc.
The sleeve notes inform that alternative readings of parts of both concertos were used. I listened without scores, and have to admit to missing any changes.
The timpani opening the Beethoven concerto immediately said 'period' to me, and I fleetingly thought of the timbre of a Caribbean steel band; within seconds I had adjusted to the orchestra's period sound, only noticing the comparatively lighter tone of the brass in climaxes. Whether by design or accident, the soloist's instrument is light in timbre, which matches the orchestral sound. Viktoria Mullova never forces the tone, and uses vibrato sparingly. Tempi in the Beethoven fit in perfectly with my expectations and the overall impression is of a natural and unforced reading and recording, virtuosic but without showiness. Some may prefer a little more gravitas or seriousness, and weightier sound, but this is a perfectly admirable alternative for me.
The same could be said for the Mendelssohn. The first movement is unexceptionable; I have been used to having my emotions wrung more in the second movement, which is a little fast for my taste, but the last movement dances delightfully and underscores the preparation that must have been made for orchestra and soloist to integrate so well.
I cannot be certain whether the soloist is given any electronic assistance to balance with the orchestra; I suspect she is helped, but subtly and skilfully.
Nowhere on the CD does it specify whether the surround is 5.0, or 5.1. A graphic on the back (four dots in a square with one dot in the centre) suggests 4.1 (no front centre channel, which suits me fine), but may have quite another meaning. I will say though that the rear level is greater on this SACD than on most others I own, and successfully so; it sounds totally believable.

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Review by Jakob September 21, 2008 (6 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Victoria Mullova seems to be a very unusual violin player, because she doesn't follows common paths and is rediscovering many pieces of the main violin repertoire new. So, according to her website, she plans to perform the Brahms violin concerto for the first time on gut strings.
So, this disc is also not very ordinary. Two very famous violin concertos are recorded here in a new, interesting way.
The Beethoven concerto has seen some period performances as well as recordings over the past ten years. The dutch violinist Vera Beths has recorded it recently (in 1997) with Tafelmusik under the baton of Bruno Weil for Sony Vivarte. I own this recording since some time, and so I wondered who Mullova would do it. To say it truly, there could be no grater gap between the two performances. Beths' preformance is quite quick, extroverte and witty, but with a great musicianship. Mullova´s recording is also very musically, but she takes a much slower tempo (espescially for the first movement) and her sound is less extroverte, but very sensuous and quietly shimmering - a great approach of true "romanticism". The cadencas by harpsichord player Ottavio Dantone are very inetresting. The orchestra under Gardiner is a little bit big for my taste, but they follow Mullova's intetions very well and are also very "noble" in the sound.
Because the Beethoven recording pleases me very well, I had expectations on the Mendelssohn one, and sadly I was rather disappointed with that. Here, Mullova´s style of playing seems not to be very conform with the composition: for example the witty and sparkling figures of the third movement are played rather uninspired and hardly ravishing. A little degree of bore is there when I listened to it.
But if you love Beethoven´s concert well and you want an unusual, but top-notch performance of it, don´t hesitate to buy this disc.
The sound is problematic. Because the violin seems to be very overpowered by the engineers and the orchestra is more in the back of the sound stage, it is not a real pleasure to hear. It´s a pity, because it is recorded in the great acoustics of the Watford Colisseum, and you don´t hear anything of it. There is no trace of naturality or wideness which you can enjoy on the Gardiner recording of Weber´s Oberon, recorded at the same time, but sadly not released as SACD.

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