COMPOSERS: Bax,Bowen,Rubbra & Bliss,Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Music for viola and piano by Vaughan Williams, Bax, Bowen, Rubbra & Bliss
PERFORMER: Roger Chase (viola), Michiko Otaki (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7231
With days of the viola as a Cinderella among solo string instruments long gone, there’s now a steady procession of new recordings by today’s crop of top-flight performers – who naturally tend to come up with repertory that’s familiar to themselves and their viola-playing colleagues, and obscure to the rest of us.
Fortunately both of these discs contain more than enough fine material to lift them well out of the ‘specialists only’ category. Martin Outram (among much else the Maggini Quartet’s violist) has made his own transcription of Delius’s Cello Sonata – music that adapts beautifully to the subtle range of light and shade he conjures from his instrument in every context, including some less rewardingly individual than this.
Ireland’s Sonata, though more limited and predictable musical territory, also works very well in Lionel Tertis’s arrangement. (Information on how these transcriptions are made and the musical issues involved, for instance from Outram himself, would have been welcome – but in today’s age of ever more restricted booklet notes? Some hope.)
Gordon Jacob’s Sonata offers strongly characterised ideas with structural inventiveness to match; and Malcolm Arnold’s early work already brims with the composer’s disconcerting brand of not-quite-good-humour. Julian Rolton, too, is an alert and excellent accompanist throughout.
Roger Chase (of the Nash Ensemble and London Sinfonietta) offers a different kind of sound from Outram – strikingly full and rounded, with at times an almost cello-like breadth. Vaughan Williams’s Romance (also recorded earlier by Chase in his own orchestral arrangement) is the shortest item recorded here, and it’s no surprise that it reveals the strongest musical personality.
With no disrespect at all to Michiko Otaki’s exemplary piano accompaniments, the other memorable work is the one where she doesn’t feature: Rubbra’s Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola is a gravely beautiful, chant-based set of variations, by a composer whose quiet unpretentiousness and individuality impress all the more as time passes.
So does Rubbra’s instinct for spare deployment of the notes themselves – a satisfying contrast to the prolix length of Bliss’s overwritten Sonata, although the immensity of Chase’s mastery transforms even this into an agreeable listening experience. Malcolm Hayes