Widmann’s ‘bold and brilliant’ new viola concerto

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Widmann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi HMM
ALBUM TITLE: Widmann
WORKS: Viola Concerto; 24 Duos; String Quartet No. 3 (Jagdquartett)
PERFORMER: Antoine Tamestit (viola), Bruno Philippe (cello); Signum Quartet; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: 902268

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The cover is eye-catching: viola player Antoine Tamestit caught mid-scream, mouth wide open. There is a musical point to the image too. In Jörg Widmann’s 2015 Viola Concerto, written for Tamestit, the soloist becomes a theatrical figure who roams around the orchestra, leaving the usual spot near the conductor. And Widmann, actually a clarinettist by training, fully exploits the viola’s capabilities. Extended techniques – waving the bow through the air, tapping the wood, and yes, even shouting – turn the viola into a one-man-band.

This is a wonderfully rich and rewarding concerto, packed with inventive orchestral detail. Widmann seems to move between different worlds in the five interlinked movements, and the slower passages yield particularly haunting music. In the mystical Sehr langsam, for instance, Tamestit makes the viola sing like a lost soul. And the effect of take-off in the Toccata, leading us into a free-floating, deep-space soundscape in the Aria is superb.

From Tamestit’s searing playing, to the tight rapport with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding, this is an impressive premiere recording.

The 24 Duos, arranged for viola and cello, are suavely played, by Tamestit and cellist Bruno Philippe, but the Signum Quartet gets the last word. Widmann’s Hunt Quartet is a vibrant riff on hunting motifs and the thrill of the chase – and kill. Cellists, beware!

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Rebecca Franks