Mullova’s playing is a testimony to her taste and eclecticism, in which she may be likened to fellow Russian Tatiana Grindenko, while her overtly intelligent, non-conformist approach parallels that of her contemporary Nigel Kennedy. She studied in Moscow with Volodar Bronin (a pupil of David Oistrakh) and at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Leonid Kogan, going on to win top prizes in the Wieniawski, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky Competitions. Her most significant career move came a year after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition when (like Gidon Kremer a decade earlier) she defected to the West, was almost immediately recruited by the Philips record label, and quickly built an international reputation. Since then she has developed and put into practice an interest in Baroque performance, as well as pursuing crossover, pop, ethnic and jazz genres.
Her mainstream performances (demonstrated by her 1985 Tchaikovsky Concerto) display lightness and elegance as well as the necessary depth and virtuosic heat. Equally, Mullova and Labèque perform the Ravel Sonata in G (2005) with appropriate delicacy and lithe elasticity.
Mullova’s performances of earlier-period works defy easy categorisation. She plays on period instruments with gut strings, Baroque or transitional bow, etc. and is ready to embrace well-researched historical practices in early repertoire, but has not yet extended this ethos into performance of nineteenth-century works. Accordingly, her Beethoven Violin Concerto with John Eliot Gardiner (2002) is pleasingly clear and crisp, and holds back on vibrato, but does not quite find the Romantic spirit of expression. The same might be said of her Op. 12 No. 3 Sonata (2009), which enticingly employs period instruments but fails to use them in a period style—the result is rather dry. The Vivaldi (2004) and Bach (2007) examples selected are more immediately impressive for their lightness, variety and sense of shape; here Mullova is highly convincing, but for her overuse of vibrato. These are relatively minor cavils, however, as Mullova epitomises an ideal of intelligent and stylistically-sensitive performance—an increasingly important agenda for the next generation of players brought up in today’s musically-pluralistic society.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)