Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova won the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky competitions in the early 1980s. Within three years she featured in a dramatic defection in Finland, scurrying to the American Embassy in a blonde wig.

Mullova has a distinguished back catalogue of standard repertoire, from her buoyant 2003 Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos to her 2009 solo Bach, impeccably groomed with the best back-to-Baroque accoutrements.

Early on, her husband, cellist Matthew Barley, tempted the violinist into the crossover lane, with the music of the Bee Gees nestling up against Steely Dan in her 2000 Through the Looking Glass album.

Now, a new double CD, The Peasant Girl, reveals that the violinist's urge to merge what its cover describes as the misleading shackles of genre has not abated.


The opening For Nedim, in which Mullova and her band transplant pulsating beats and North African lutes into a Roma encampment, proves an irresistible opener. Yet, within a track, their take on John Lewis' Django is doomed by self-conscious artiness. Despite the skilful improv inspired by seven Bartok Duos, the jauntiness of the originals wins the day.

Inevitably the highlight of this over-ambitious project is Kodaly's Duo, its mercurial mood-shifts empowering Mullova and Barley to release the gypsy in their souls.

Stars: 3/5