What is it with the American audiences and Viktoria Mullova? This superb artist has never enjoyed more than a token recognition on this continent, and along the way her recordings have quietly disappeared from the catalog and from the store shelves. There is no greater shame than deleting (or no longer importing) her Bach Partitas for solo violin (also on Philips), one of the true desert island discs of our era. In Mullova we have one of those extemely rare artists who (like Richter or Pollini on the piano) wholly transform the way you hear not only the instrument being played but also the composition served by that instrument.
If you never saw the point of either the violin as such or for that matter Bach, listen to these stunning performances and be silenced forever. There are one or two other great violinists active today with comparable talent (mention only Gidon Kremer), but the rest are put into their place soon after these wonderfully lively, precise, astonishingly vivid, and brilliantly characterized performances carry you through the first bars. A high-power player where needed (hear her Brahms concerto), Mullova has learned much from the period instrument movement and here produces a seductively lean, sinewy sound that doesn't miss a nuance of expression, all in exquisite taste. Superbly accompanied by a relatively small orchestra handpicked for the purpose, she articulates every note, phrase and line of these lovely works with unheard-of subtlety and incomparable assurance, without as much as a passing moment of dullness or lifeless tone. This is Bach playing of the highest order, and the musical intelligence of the performers shines through in a natural sound of the excellent Philips recording. If there was such a thing as Fischer-Dieskau on strings, this would be it. As exemplary as they might be in other company, you'll never go back to Accardo, Grumiaux, or even Kremer in these works - to say nothing of the others (but keep your Oistrakh for the memories). This is on a level of its own and you will judge the rest with these performances as the standard.
In terms of sheer violin technique and control, Mullova has no match, whether in the past or the present, and for further evidence of her flawless musicianship look for her recordings, first and foremost, of the two Prokofiev sonatas, given idiomatic and simply mindblowing performances with the great Polish piano talent Piotr Anderszewski - likely to blow you off your feet, whatever the period you might be into. It is time to leave the historical performances where they belong (archival shelves) and let fresh air in through magnificent new recordings such as those few that are available by this remarkable musician. And with the superior recording technology you get to hear how the violin actually sounds in a physical space.
One hopeless request: You may still be able pick up Mullova's Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy, Janacek, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev during your holiday trip to Europe or Japan, but will the commercial record company sales projections ever allow us the pleasure of hearing her in the other great works of modern violin literature she has tackled on the concert stage, most urgently the Berg concerto?