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Nils Mönkemeyer explores works for viola by Bruch, Pärt and Walton

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Bruch • Pärt • Walton
Walton: Viola Concerto; Bruch: Kol Nidrei; Romance for viola and orchestra; Pärt: Fratres
Nils Mönkemeyer (viola); Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Markus Poschner
Sony Classical 88985360192

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Walton’s vibrant Viola Concerto is best heard in his final, pared-down 1961 scoring. That’s the choice of viola player Nils Mönkemeyer and conductor Markus Poschner, whose wonderfully clear account is gilded by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra’s spangled brass and refined winds. The German virtuoso lavishes affection on the opening Andante commodo, bringing out all its sensuous melancholy in one, long-breathed utterance.

Tempos are on the relaxed side compared to those dynamic early performances (Walton conducted blistering accounts of all his concertos), but this is only really an issue in the Vivo. Where Lawrence Power (Hyperion) gives us a thrillingly reckless chase and an urban snarl, Mönkemeyer remains elegant, fluid, but misses that sense of risk. The finale begins in rather unassertive mood, but Mönkemeyer produces glowing colours in the double-stopped interludes. Its sweet second theme is exquisitely realised, Mönkemeyer mingling with radiant horns and wind solos of heavenly purity, as is the dreamy final coda, underpinned by delicate bass clarinet, caught in an ideal resonance. This is certainly one of the finest orchestral accounts of the work in the catalogue.

Perhaps Bruch’s two arch-Romantic pieces present a greater interpretative challenge: this Kol Nidrei is intensely focused, but requires the heft and resonance of the cello, for which it was written. By contrast, his Romance is a veritable love-letter to the viola’s smoky voice. But it’s repetitive, and can so easily sag – not even the mighty Mönkemeyer can rescue it. Pärt’s ubiquitous Fratres is well-played, but makes an odd pay-off.

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Helen Wallace