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MUSIC REVIEW: When musicians call the shots

The music on "Viktoria Mullova & Katia Lebeque in Recital" a brilliantly played CD, bears the stamp of a musician, not a record label, calling the shots (Mullova executive-produced the CD). And the result is a well-thought-out album whose works span more than 100 years and complement each other nicely by subtle juxtaposition.

On "Recital," we get music played by two musicians well acquainted with each other's talents for musical alchemy. Mullova, a Russian-trained violinist, plays with an earthy yet refined tone. And she deliveres it with deep sensitivity. Lebeque proves her equal in every way, with intelligent piano playing.

A lively and gritty reading of Igor Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne" is the introductory work, and here Mullova plays with fearless exuberance. She eschews beauty for brashness on the violin, and it lends a burnished dimension to the work.

A smart blend of violin and piano is achieved in Franz Schubert's seldom-heard "Fantasie for violin and piano in C major." This difficult work shows Lebeque's subtle touch with Schubert's lyrical piano passages. And Mullova navigates the dynamics on the violin with a powerful musicality.

Some of the most inspired playing comes in Maurice Ravel's "Sonata for violin and piano." The jazzy second movement is full of engaging percussive ornaments on the violin. The playing here is smooth and silky one moment, fraught with dark fire the next.

This provocative CD proves that when musicians are given the freedom to record what they're passionate about, the results are likely to be noteworthy.

"Viktoria Mullova & Katia Lebeque in Recital " is released by Onyx.

***1/2 out of four stars.

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