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Viktoria Mullova is one of the most unpredictable of modern violinists. She has evolved from the epitome of Soviet-style ‘monolithic perfection’ (her own words) into a free spirit and she has children by three different fathers including Claudio Abbado. She nevertheless always acknowledges the value of the awesome technical grounding she received in Russia. Many pages are devoted to Mullova’s ancestors: Some readers may be impatient to read of her own career, but this historical background proves to be an essential part of her story. The most engaging part of the book is the story of Mullova’s defection. This fraught escapade is threatened at every step by the fi ckle nature of the Soviet authorities.

Many important changes have emerged from Mullova’s maturity. Her playing as a young soloist in Soviet Russia was formidable, aimed at perfection and fiercely controlled. Now it is characterised by freedom of expression and a sense of danger, but it is also influenced by her study of baroque music and ‘informed’ performance practices such as the use of gut strings. She has reconnected with her peasant roots – ‘My great-grandparents came from a very poor village and were illiterate’. Mullova recalls her Soviet period: ‘I was told never to trust anyone … But now I’m starting to have deeper relationships with people. I’m able to relax more and enjoy their company. It’s very exciting.’ The belated revival of her relationship with her father is one such happy experience.

This is a readable book with some journalistic leanings and occasional bad writing (‘Now he pulled as many strings as made up his orchestra to curry favour with the KGB’, and ‘has served her in good stead’), but I liked this analogy on page 269: ‘This is definitely a happier, looser Viktoria. Not only has her violin had its strings relaxed, but so has she.’ References to ‘Paganini’s violin concerto’ and ‘Bach’s sarabande’ are puzzling, Rudolph Serkin should be Rudolf, and the index is rather unreliable.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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