Prom 46: Mullova/Barley – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Viktoria Mullova and Matthew Barley had worn gleaming white when they appeared earlier in the evening for the premiere of Thomas Larcher's double concerto. Returning for the late concert, Barley wore an embroidered waistcoat and Mullova a ruched, midnight-blue Gypsy skirt. The costumes reflected the branding of the latest progeny of this enviably talented couple, a concept album entitled The Peasant Girl, and intended by Barley as a tribute to his wife's rural Ukranian origins.

I'm not sure I buy it. Mullova looks good in a Gypsy skirt, but you could drape her in bear skin and she would still play like a thoroughbred from the conservatoire stable. The programme centred on Zoltán Kodály's Op 7 Duo. Based on a number of Hungarian Gypsy melodies, the work's earthy origins are given wings by Kodály's inventive and superbly sculpted handling of the material – but despite flashes of brilliance, this performance never really lifted off.

The Kodály was framed by Barley's arrangements of Gypsy-inspired jazz from Bratsch and the legendary American 1970s outfit Weather Report, for which Mullova and Barley were joined by pianist Julian Joseph, and percussionists Paul Clarvis and Sam Walton. These players are all class acts, but what should have been a mouthwatering stylistic soup emerged as a slightly stale gruel. It was all just so obedient and tame. Even Joseph sounded ill at ease in his break in The Peasant, by Joe Zawinul, while Mullova's reprise was distinctly constipated. Much better was Barley's Yura. Composed in memory of Mullova's father, and inspired by a view of the Siberian Lake Baikal, it unfolds like a long, beautiful gaze held over the course of two long and immensely peaceful phrases – here, at last, was music in which all the players found themselves breathing with ease.

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Guy Dammann

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