The Peasant Girl
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The "peasant girl" of this novel album's title is Viktoria Mullova herself, whose ancestors of two generations ago, the booklet notes, were Ukrainian farmers. You might expect an update of the gypsy/East European encore repertory, and in a way that's what you get, but this double album is actually something a bit more ambitious. Mullova is accompanied by a small ensemble including her husband, Matthew Barley, on cello, a pianist, and a pair of percussionists. This little group is flexible enough to encompass a range of genres from classical chamber music to North African sounds. All of it is, as the players indicate, unified by the scales and tonalities of Eastern Europe, but there's a second and more important unifying factor that the packaging barely hints at: the presence of jazz, which is treated in a way unlike in any other classical-jazz fusion recordings. The players essay, in Barley's arrangements, a pair of pieces by the great central European jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul, of the band Weather Report, and in addition there are straight gypsy jazz pieces from a French band called Bratsch, and even little improvisatory interpolations into selections from the Bartók "44 Duos" for two violins, here arranged for violin and cello. Several pieces begin with long improvisatory sections before getting to their famous gypsy melodies (you'll recognize Florian Hermann's "Dark Eyes," CD 1, track 3, even if you don't know the name). Taken as a whole, the album is a sort of jazz fantasy on the old Eastern European gypsy encore sound, and even if it's not uniformly successful (the second disc adds little to the overall effect), it achieves a level of originality that's rare among players of Mullova's stature.