Viktoria Mullova Viktoria Mullova's violin recital Sunday afternoon at the Landon School was no ordinary event. Mullova was a rising star in Russia when she defected to the West in 1983, having already won the most prestigious violin competitions (including the Tchaikovsky) with virtually perfect technical control and dominating musicianship. Her highly charged performances and recordings quickly established her in the West as a supremely gifted soloist in the glorious Russian tradition. But in 1997 she began using gut strings, lighter bows and more colorful articulations for early music; now she is relearning her entire repertoire on gut strings -- a transformation that trades brilliance for warmth, mile-wide vibrato for variegated tonal inflection, rippling power for dynamic refinement.
Mullova's unhurried, almost offhand traversal of Ravel's Sonata for Piano and Violin was beautifully transparent and unforced. She slowed the perpetual-motion finale just enough to let it dance, and the gemlike clarity of her phrasing was strikingly exact and uncommonly beautiful. She found playful shadows in the sharp angles of Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne," and aristocratic sentiment in Clara Schumann's "Three Romances."
Mullova and pianist Charles Abramovic stayed resolutely on the surface of Robert Schumann's Sonata No. 1, missing some of its intimacy and muting its passion. Abramovic was throughout a sensitive accompanist but not quite a full collaborator, and Mullova sometimes lost concentration and coasted on her talent. This was nonetheless a fascinating recital from a marvelous artist whose second act is just underway.
-- Ronald Broun
Roman Lebedev Roman Lebedev's Haydn is not for the fainthearted. The pianist's reading of the composer's Sonata Hob. XVI/20 at the Washington Conservatory of Music on Sunday was stark, fragmented, restlessly searching. Clusters of notes seemed to fight their way out of the silence, make their way haltingly, then tumble back into silence. That this unsettling take on Haydn worked as well as it did is a tribute to Lebedev's concentration and scrupulous control.
Not surprisingly, his performance of Beethoven's final piano sonata, the great Op. 111, was cut from the same cloth. The first movement was slow and galvanic (delivered with larger-than-life tone, thanks to the beefy bass register of the conservatory's nine-foot Bluethner), and the Arietta featured a middle section that sounded less like the crazed honky-tonk riff it can often resemble, and more like an outpouring of ecstatic pain. Beethoven-playing this unvarnished, this deeply felt demands to be heard in the other 31 sonatas.
The recital's big surprise was Schubert's B-flat Sonata, D. 960. Here, Lebedev bucked a popular trend of deconstructing Schubert's keyboard works to mine them for metaphysical import. Unlike his dark-night-of-the-soul approaches to the Haydn and Beethoven sonatas, the pianist treated the Schubert to a fleet and elegant reading. With inner voices held in a lovely balance and a singing line established throughout, this four-movement work seemed to issue from a single poetic impulse.
-- Joe Banno