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The Viennese Viola

Emma Wernig (viola), Albert Cano Smit (piano) (Champs Hill)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

The Viennese Viola
Fuchs: Fantasy Pieces; Viola Sonata; Gál: Viola Sonata; Schubert: Lieder (arr. viola)
Emma Wernig (viola), Albert Cano Smit (piano)
Champs Hill CHRCD163   63:03 mins

It’s refreshing to encounter a disc with the umbrella title of ‘The Viennese Viola’ that doesn’t give you the obvious chestnuts of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata or the two Brahms Op. 120 Sonatas. Instead, Emma Wernig and Albert Cano Smit have chosen neglected repertoire that surely deserves much wider exposure. Hans Gál’s three movement Viola Sonata is a real discovery. Composed in 1942, around two years after his release from internment as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man, it’s a beautifully honed lyrical work conveying the composer’s melancholy state of mind in the opening Adagio, as well as evoking a deep sense of nostalgia for the Vienna of a bygone era in the ensuing Minuet.

Much of the rest of this warmly recorded disc is devoted to the complete works for viola and piano by Robert Fuchs, a late-Romantic Austrian composer strongly admired by Brahms, but more remembered these days as the teacher of an array of composing talents from Enescu and Sibelius to Hugo Wolf and Zemlinsky. Fuchs’s music is well put together, but perhaps lacks the last ounce of thematic memorability. Nevertheless, Wernig and Cano Smit really go for broke in the outer movements of the Sonata delivering playing of great passion and intensity that revels in Fuchs’s frequent modulations to unexpected keys. They offer equally insightful playing in the composer’s Six Fantasy Pieces, an attractive late work composed in the 1920s that could easily have been written some 40 years earlier.

Erik Levi