The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: The violinist returns to her rural roots with an eclectic selection of music
Musicians: Viktoria Mullova (violin) Matthew Barley Ensemble
Composer: DuOud, Lewis, Hermann, Bartók, Barley, Kodály, N’Dour, Bratsch & Weather Report

Viktoria Mullova has teamed up with cellist husband Matthew Barley and his jazz-leaning ensemble to deliver an assortment of gypsy-influenced music spanning folk, classical and fusion. An accident waiting to happen, perhaps – but it doesn’t, for a number of reasons. The ensemble is cleverly chosen – Sam Walton’s marimba offers a fresh take on the traditional gypsy cimbalom, while Paul Clarvis’s earthy drum-kit provides depth and atmosphere. He and pianist Julian Joseph improvise in places, notably when interleaved subtly between the Bartók duos. And Barley’s arrangements seamlessly weave disparate strands and ideas together.

Finally, it works because Mullova’s playing allows her to traverse this selection of repertoire. In the main hers is a firm, robust but unmannered sound that has a home in both Bartók and the music of French ensemble Bratsch, though she does show a deft, light touch when the melodies spiral breathlessly. Barley is well matched to this in the duos, and the end of the second movement of the Kodály is especially arresting. If there is a drawback, the group is perhaps not suited to the level of improvisation that Weather Report’s groove music demands. But otherwise this is a fine album that understands where stylistic boundaries should be respected or ignored.

James Crel