THE VIRTUOSO VIOLA • Roger Chase (va); Michiko Otaki (pn) • NAXOS 8.572293 (68:43)
BENJAMIN Le Tombeau de Ravel. ENESCU Pièce de concert. BACH(arr. Kodály) Chromatic Fantasy. JONGEN Introduction et Danse. Read more class="COMPOSER12">VIEUXTEMPS Capriccio. Elégie. PAGANINI Sonata per la gran viola. KREISLER Praeludium and Allegro. B. SHORE Scherzo
Violists live difficult lives. They and their instruments are the butt of jokes, and they don’t get nearly as much attention as violinists and cellists. Nevertheless, the viola is just as attractive as the violin and the cello, and it deserves a repertoire and a discography of its own.
See if this CD doesn’t convince you. You might have some doubts during the opening work by Arthur Benjamin, which is a little too long for its material, and which doesn’t show the instrument off to its best advantage. By the time you get to the Enescu and certainly the Bach, however, you might find yourself thinking how sad it is that you don’t have more viola recitals in your collection.
Lionel Tertis and William Primrose were the 20th century’s most famous violists, and both of their names are prominent in this collection. Roger Chase studied with Tertis for a brief period, and now plays Tertis’s Montagnana instrument (which previously was played by Chase’s teacher Bernard Shore). Tertis also was the inspiration behind some of Joseph Jongens’s works for the viola, although the impressive Introduction et Danse was composed for another violist of note, Maurice Vieux. As for Primrose, he was the intended recipient of Benjamin’s Le Tombeau de Ravel, although Primrose’s encroaching deafness in the late 1950s moved Benjamin to arrange the work for clarinet instead. (It was premiered by Gervase de Peyer.)
In terms of length, the big works here are the Benjamin (13:30) and the Paganini (14:38). Written long after Ravel’s death, the former is hardly mournful in tone, and might better be described as a work cleverly in the style of the French master, but lacking his profundity. Speaking of profundity, that is not a quality I associate with Paganini, but sometimes virtuosity creates its own emotional depth, and I admit I was more impressed with this sonata (really a theme-and-variations set) than I expected to be. (The cadenzas are by Atar Arad.) Kodály’s arrangement of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy (the one originally for keyboard) is masterly, and the Enescu is of a high stature as well. The Vieuxtemps Elégie might tear out your heart—if you’ve had enough wine—and Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro works just as well on the viola as it does on the violin. The program ends jauntily with Bernard Shore’s own folksy Scherzo.
Chase is a familiar figure in the viola world, and hearing this recital one never doubts that he is a master of his instrument, as well as a musically sensitive and responsive performer. Some violists produce a richer tone, but this probably is more a function of their instruments than of their playing itself. Michiko Otaki is a strong accompanist who is in no danger of fading into the background. They have been microphoned closely, though, so expect to hear more than your share of extramusical noises on this disc. Booklet note duty has been divided between Chase and Otaki, with successful results.
Ask yourself if you really need another violin recital right now, and if the answer to that question is “no,” then acquire this CD at the earliest opportunity. I doubt that you will be disappointed.