Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labeque´s fascinating recital breaks the trend for themed programmes. There is little to link Stravinsky´s bittersweet ´Suite Italienne´ with the still waters of Schubert´s ´Fantasie in C´, Ravel´s elegant ´Sonata for Violin and Piano´ or Clara Schumann´s ´Romanze´, beyond both musicians´ love of the works and each one´s respect of the other´s strengths and tastes. Labeque is the dominant voice in Schubert, offering a passionate accompaniment to Mullova´s contained performance. Though Schumann is warmly realised, the duo are strongest in the neo-Classical witticisms of Stravinsky and in Ravel´s sinuous ´Blues´.
Many big name duos have the appearance and sound of marriages of convenience, brought together by record companies during a brief window in hectic schedules to spend a couple of days together in the studio. Sometimes it works, but the results often reflect the superficiality of the relationship. There is no danger of that in this marvellous new disc from Viktoria Mullova and katia Labeque. They have been performing together regularly for years, and this disc has the feel of a genuine recital, a true partnership.
The hushed opening of Schubert´s ´Fantasie´ is magical, with the early mist gradually clearing for a journey full of ´joie de vivre´. Mullova´s slides in Ravel´s sonata, captured in fine sound, have the fluidity and freedom that can only be achieved when understanding between violinist and pianist runs deep, while the pacing of the ´Perpetuum mobile´ is masterly. it might be thought that the Ravel would be closest in spirit to Stravinsky, but the Schubert emerges as its more natural partner. Not that the ´Suite Italienne´ is at all lacking in elan, though some might prefer a more driven rhythmic approach. Clara schumann´s ´Romanze´ is a sublime postlude to an imaginative and enjoyable disc.
One is immediately struck by the confident attack and bite that Mullova and Labèque display in the opening movement. In the serenata: larghetto they do not linger, placing plenty of air around the music. I experienced the pizzicato section between point 1:12-1:22 (track 2) as closely caught by the microphone. Mullova dances through the music in the tarantella: vivace at breakneck speed, maintaining complete control and in thegavotte they provide courtly rhythms, played with style and poise. In the scherzino the partnership gallop along with vivacity and vigour and are secure and expressive amid the contrasting moods of the final movement minuetto.
Schubert composed his four movement Fantasy in C major in 1827 for the Czech violinist Josef Slawjk, not long before completing his Symphony No. 9. As with theTrout Quintet and the Wanderer Fantasy Schubert incorporates one of his own songs. Here he uses his song to a Rückert text Sei mir gegrüsst (I greet you) D741 from 1822 in the extended third movement andantino.
In the opening movement andante molto Mullova and Labèque supply gentle and refined playing, with feather-like delicacy and in the allegretto they display considerable vivaciousness, staying impressively light on their feet. With the lengthy and melodious andantino Schubert has composed a showpiece movement to entertainment a recital audience. I loved the way the duo provide necessary episodes of poignancy contrasted with playing of boisterous playfulness. In Schubert’s high-spirited concluding movement the players gradually develop an impressive intensity with effervescent and buoyant playing.
In the extended opening allegretto Mullova and Labèque play with deep concentration, expertly navigating a resolute course through Ravel’s tricky and complex writing. Any doubts I harboured about how Mullova would interpret the jazzy central movement blues: moderato were immediately dashed. She turns in a remarkable performance that reminded me of jazz legend Stéphane Grappelli (1908-1997). In the final movement marked perpetuum mobile: allegro the partnership perform with verve and dazzling technical assurance.