Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite for Viola and Orchestra.
(arr. V. Mendelssohn)
Roger Myers (va); Michael Francis, cond; London SO
DELOS 3441 (66:53)
When violist Roger Myers approached McLean about writing a work for viola and
orchestra as an
to his mother, Myers asked if it would be possible to weave something into the texture of the piece from Bach’s
St. Matthew Passion
. The idea, of course, has a famous precedent in the last movement of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, in which the composer works material into the score from the chorale “Es ist genug,” from Bach’s Cantata
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort
, BWV 60. For his quotation, McLean chose the chorale tune “Befiehl du deine Wege” (Entrust your life’s course) from the requested
St. Matthew Passion.
Other than that, McLean’s Suite is a purely abstract piece of concerted orchestral music—essentially a viola concerto by another name—albeit an intensely emotional, deeply moving, and stunningly beautiful piece. Progressing in three movements, titled Prelude, Passacaglia, and Chorale, the work provides just enough technical display for the solo viola to offer contrast and balance to the slower meditative and mournful music, without becoming the type of virtuosic vehicle that would not be in keeping with the reserved nature and respectful purpose of the score. Stylistically, McLean’s approach is to apply 20th-century techniques of harmony, dissonance, rhythm, and orchestration cosmetically, which is not meant as criticism, but is intended to describe a musical palette that is profoundly romantic in gesture and semantics. Call it a suite, if you like—that’s what McLean titled it—but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a magnificent and important addition to the viola concerto literature. Violist Roger Myers, who plays the piece gorgeously, can be thrilled with the result of his commission.
is, of course, not new to records. It’s a well-known and very popular work, often heard on cello, though it was originally written for viola, on which instrument it’s performed here by Myers. However, it was composed for viola and piano. McLean has here turned his efforts to orchestrating the four character pieces that make up the work. The orchestrations are effective, and Myers’s playing is impressive. Just listen to the tempo he takes in the third piece,
, to hear what a real virtuoso on the instrument sounds like. One wonders if this was what Rimsky-Korsakov had in mind when he wrote
Flight of the Bumblebee.
Just as there is no shortage of recordings of Schumann’s
, so there is no shortage of recordings of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata; but here the piano part has been orchestrated by Vladimir Mendelssohn, himself a well-known and widely recorded violist. I’m not quite as convinced of the effectiveness of orchestrating the Shostakovich as I am of orchestrating the Schumann, but that may be because Shostakovich conceived the piece as a true duo sonata in which both partners engage in a complex and delicately balanced dialogue, whereas the Schumann is more of a work in which the piano accompanies and complements the solo instrument. In any case, Myers acquits himself as admirably in the Shostakovich as he does in the Schumann and McLean.
Worthy of mention also is the fine work by the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Michael Francis, as well as the exceptionally fine recording by Delos. This is a “should-buy” recommendation, especially for the McLean. I should mention, by the way, that the album is titled
Fantasy and Farewell, Music for Viola and Orchestra,
because that might have some bearing on how it’s cataloged and/or filed.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Suite for Viola and Orchestra by Michael McLean
Roger Myers (Viola)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Roger Myers (Viola)
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1975; USSR
Suite for Viola and Orchestra: I. Prelude
Suite for Viola and Orchestra: II. Passacaglia
Suite for Viola and Orchestra: III. Chorale
Marchenbilder (Fairy Tales), Op. 113: I. Nicht schnell
Marchenbilder (Fairy Tales), Op. 113: II. Lebhaft
Marchenbilder (Fairy Tales), Op. 113: III. Rasch
Marchenbilder (Fairy Tales), Op. 113: IV. Langsam, mit melancholischem Ausdruck
Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (arr. V. Mendelssohn): I. Moderato
Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (arr. V. Mendelssohn): II. Allegretto
Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (arr. V. Mendelssohn): III. Adagio
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