Mullova adds "danger" to the art of music making

Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:36am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - There's a word that crops up in relation to violinist Viktoria Mullova's recent performances, one not often associated with the cosseted classical music world, and that word is "danger."

Her recent recording of Beethoven's popular Kreutzer sonata for violin and piano (Onyx 4050) was singled out by one critic for the "nervous quality" of Mullova's playing and the "extra excitement, danger even," she and accompanist Kristian Bezuidenhout of South Africa created by using gut strings on the violin and an 1822 fortepiano rather than a modern grand.

"That was how Beethoven was hearing his music -- in his head, of course, because he couldn't hear it otherwise," Mullova, referring to the composer's increasing deafness at the time he wrote the piece, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Gut strings require a different playing technique from modern metal ones and the fortepiano has a knack for rapidly going out of tune -- making everything that much more difficult.

But this is exactly what Mullova has been working toward, ever since one of the most prominent musical defectors from the former Soviet Union -- where she was trained in the big, romantic Moscow Conservatory style -- decided to become equally adept in the so-called "period" playing techniques.

"We have so many recordings these days of the Beethoven sonatas I don't think it's interesting anymore to hear another one, they are all played more or less in the same way," she said, with a noticeable accent perhaps betraying that Mullova, although she defected in 1983 and lives in London, remains faithful to the "Russian soul."

"I didn't record it because I wanted to be different, but because I wanted to go to the actual composition, how it was intended to be," she added, underscoring the determination that allowed her to slip away from the Soviet state music industry.

"It's not like I have stopped playing in the Russian way," she noted, promising "big sound and vibrato all over the place" when she tackles Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Stravinsky's Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra during a three-month residency at London's Barbican, starting Sept 30, as part of the UBS Soundscapes program.   Continued...