Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonata No. 3 in C,
BWV 1005: Adagio and Fugue.
Nos. 4, 5, 9, 11, 13–17, 19, 20, 24
Vidor Nagy (va)
HERA 02202 (2 DVDs: 108: 09)
These emotional, impassioned, sometimes rough-hewn performances of Bach and Paganini transcribed for viola are not for everyone’s taste, most
especially if you insist on historically informed performances, but for me that’s what makes them great. Vidor Nagy (b. 1942), a Hungarian violist who is first chair of the Württemberg State Orchestra of the Stuttgart Opera, spent a lifetime studying and practicing these works before he took the step of having them videotaped in 2007 and 2009, and has now released them on a double-DVD set. He holds his instrument under his chin and not against his shoulder. He plays with vibrato, and not straight tone. His playing is emotionally powerful, not tight and controlled. I’m not entirely sure why Hera couldn’t have put the entire program on one DVD, as it is under two hours, but other than that these are performances that will move you, and that is the primary function of all great music.
Nagy not only wears his emotion on his sleeve, or in his bowing, but also in his facial expressions. Though he stands throughout the performances, he doesn’t stand still, but is constantly in motion, his face and body language mirroring the deep feeling he puts into every note. In Phantasma II of the Chaconne, he creates a continuous sound, the whirring 16th notes of the music blending the melody line and accompaniment as to create an almost organ-like effect. There is so much raw emotion in these performances that at times it reaches an intensity that is usually only felt in Indian ragas played by masters like Ali Akhbar Khan. Thus does West meet East, German Baroque classicism meets Hungarian emotionality.
Because of his powerful emotional connection to the music, Nagy is the antithesis of more controlled Western violists like Hindemith or Primrose. One wonders where he gets such deep, continuous reserves of energy; the average violist would be completely drained after even one Phantasma of the Chaconne. In the third of these, Nagy’s playing virtually erupts in a torrent of rich tone, the sound of each string almost overlapping the others. Even the adagios, such as the one preceding the fugue of the sonata, are restless and emotive. There are no calm seas for this prosperous voyager as he pours his heart out in every note he plays, yet for all the emotionality of his interpretation, Nagy is not the least bit sentimental.
Bach’s pieces, being “absolute” music applicable to almost any instrument, work well on the viola, but I am less convinced by Nagy’s transcription of 12 of Paganini’s 24 Caprices to his instrument. For one thing, its darker, more port-wine-color seems at odds with the essential Italianate sunniness of the music. For another, the difficult leaps and reaches into the upper register are much harder to accomplish on viola, and it shows up here in an occasional tendency to go flat. This is not a condemnation of Nagy, however, as I’m not sure that even such a technical wizard as Primrose could control the instrument much better in these transcriptions. Technical blemishes aside, Nagy’s playing is as fervent as his Bach, and his attention to structure ensures a familial resemblance between the two composers.
Unfortunately, the visual element is not as spontaneous or interesting as the musical. The camerawork is pedestrian and unimaginative, alternating between long shot and close-up with almost routine predictability. A few side shots and juxtaposed angles would have been welcome. But, being honest, these performances lose their appeal as a visual record fairly quickly. Nagy can be interesting to watch for his emotional expressions, but after about 10 minutes all I wanted to do was
I don’t listen with my eyes.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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