Ranging from the Schubert Fantasy of 1827 to Stravinsky s 1933 Suite Italienne, this collection spans a tremendously exciting 100 years, in which music changed radically, rapidly and irreversibly. These works demonstrate the massive alterations wrought in those years; the contrast between the Romanticism of Schubert and Clara Schumann, and the innovation of Ravel and Stravinsky. Yet Stravinsky s use of Baroque music and Ravel s appropriation of jazz show that the 20th century embraced diverse influences, including those of the past. Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labèque have played this recital together many times, and, as is clear from this recording, relish each composer s distinctive approach to writing for violin and piano. It was Diaghilev who first suggested that Stravinsky should draw inspiration from Pergolesi when composing the ballet Pulcinella. Stravinsky was at first hesitant, daunted at the prospect of re-working music by a composer whom he much admired, but any qualms were overcome on discovering that the production would feature choreography by Massine and design by Picasso. When Stravinksy set about his task: ... the work filled me with joy. The material I had at my disposal ... made me appreciate more and more the true nature of Pergolesi while discerning ever more clearly the closeness of my mental and, so to speak, sensory kinship with him. It has since been discovered that not all of the fragments used by Stravinsky were correctly attributed to Pergolesi, but this cannot diminish the quality of the resultant music, which set the precedent for Stravinsky s later Neo-Classical works: Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course, but it was a look in the mirror, too. Pulcinella was transcribed three times, as a Suite for violin and piano (1925), as a Suite Italienne for cello and piano, and as the Suite Italienne for violin and piano heard here. This version was made by Stravinsky and violinist Samuel Dushkin for use on their concert tours. The work opens with two movements vivacious and sombre taken from the start of the ballet, in which Stravinksy leaves the original Baroque elements essentially intact. For the next four movements Stravinsky selected material from the end of the work, and it is here that his own mannerisms elliptical phrasing, complex rhythmic units and vibrant splashes of colour come to the fore, at once decorating and transforming the original music. Schubert s Fantasy in C for violin and piano was written in 1827 for the young Czech virtuoso Josef Slawjk, and was premiered in January 1828, the year of the composer s death. As with the Trout Quintet and Wanderer Fantasy, the Fantasy uses one of Schubert s own songs, in this case Sei mir gegrüsst I greet you , D741, of 1822, during the Andantino variations at the heart of the work. However, the Fantasy is astonishingly atypical of Schubert s output. Fiendishly difficult to perform, Schubert s focus when writing this piece seems to have been virtuosity, something he did not usually prize for all the difficulty of other of his works as a musical objective. Nevertheless, this dazzling display is underpinned by an intricate multi-sectional structure: Andante molto (in 6/8) Allegretto (2/4) Andantino (variations in 3/4) Tempo primo (a shortened reprise of the opening) Allegro vivace (4/4) Allegretto (a final variation postponed from the Andantino) and a Presto coda. The key areas hinge around C and its circle of thirds, A minor/major, A flat and E flat.
Many big-name duos have the appearance and sounds of marrriages of convenience, brought together by record companies during a brief window in hectic schedules to spend a couple of days 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 genial 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. ***** --BBC Music Magazine, JAN 2007 -