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Stamitz, Hoffmeister: Viola Concertos / Chang, Thakar, Baltimore Chamber Orchetra

Hoffmeister / Stamitz / Baltimore Chamber Orch
Release Date: 07/26/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572162   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carl StamitzFranz Anton Hoffmeister
Performer:  Victoria Chiang
Conductor:  Markand Thakar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STAMITZ Viola Concerto No 1 in D. HOFFMEISTER Viola Concertos: in D; in B? Victoria Chiang (va); Markand Thakar, cond; Baltimore CO NAXOS 8.572162 (63: 53)

Despite its central position in the orchestra, the viola has been largely passed over by composers as a solo vehicle in favor of the violin and cello. I have my theories why this is so, some of which have to do with the relatively low state of viola playing here and abroad. Conventional Read more wisdom has it that violists are failed violinists—at this point, I could drag in any number of viola jokes, such as, “Why is a viola solo like an incoming artillery shell? Because by the time you hear it, it’s already too late.” No, the present CD should demonstrate conclusively that brilliant violists do exist—but more about that later. The relative coolness that composers have shown toward the viola over the centuries has mostly to do with its rather unusual sound, which in turn is a function of raw physics and acoustics.

I have in my library a faded copy of Scientific American (November 1962) that contains an article outlining the work of a certain Carleen Maley Hutchins (1911–2009), who lived and worked in Montclair, New Jersey, a scant 20 miles from the World Headquarters of Fanfare in Tenafly. Hutchins did pioneering research into the violin family, discovering why some instruments such as the violin sound marvelous, and why some such as the viola sound—well, mostly crappy. Seems that the corpus of the viola is too small to supply the necessary resonances that support the strings. Without getting too technical, there are basically two main resonances, that of the air cavity and the spruce top, that are shifted upward in the viola, compared with the violin. This gives the instrument its characteristic tubbiness and to a certain extent accounts for the strained sound in the upper register. Hutchins designed a replacement for the traditional viola; she called it the “vertical viola” because it wouldn’t fit under the chin and had to be played upright like a cello. A few years ago, Yo-Yo Ma made a recording of the Bartók Viola Concerto on a Hutchins vertical viola; as I recall, it was quite well received.

Violists have to contend with the handicap of a compromised instrument in a way that violinists and cellists seldom do, and it’s all because of physics. Some are noticeably more successful in overcoming this obstacle than others, especially Victoria Chiang, whose credentials include guest appearances at festivals around the world and a position on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Her viola (make unspecified) has the typical earthy sound in the middle and lower registers, but beginning with the A string, she manages to coax a most beguiling tone from her instrument. Since the three concertos recorded here require the soloist to make frequent excursions into the stratosphere, that’s good news indeed. Technical facility and intonation are all that one could wish for, plus there is a nice expressive content to her playing. These are not what you would call historically informed performances, but that hardly matters considering the beauty of the playing.

A word about the music is in order. Viola concertos were no more abundant in the late 18th century than they are today. Carl Stamitz (1745–1801), scion of the famous Mannheim School, built a small reputation as a viola soloist, although Mozart doesn’t seem to have cared much for him. New Grove lists three Stamitz viola concertos, but in reality there is only one, since a second is available only in a transcription for keyboard, and a third is for viola d’amore. Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812) was an amateur composer who published several of Mozart’s late works, including the “Hoffmeister” Quartet, K 499. Later, one of Hoffmeister’s ventures would evolve into the important firm of C. F. Peters in Leipzig. His two concertos are at least as interesting as Stamitz’s, although no one would ever mistake them as products of a more gifted composer like Haydn or Mozart.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and conductor Markand Thakar provide admirable support, and the recorded sound is beyond reproach. A delightful hour of viola playing—highly recommended.

FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen


These are attractive, elegant works in a somewhat generic classical style, with singing opening allegros employing triadic themes, touching slow movements with some minor-key inflections, and perky rondo finales. The two works by Hoffmeister have a bit more harmonic interest and rhythmic tension than the more aristocratic Stamitz piece, but the differences aren't huge. Victoria Chiang plays with a big tone and lots of enthusiasm, and since she's rather closely recorded it's a good thing that her intonation is so accurate, even in double-stops. The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra is a modern-instrument group, which certainly isn't a disadvantage. The playing is polished and always falls gratefully on the ear. In the first movements, I could imagine perhaps a bit more energy, but this is a very minor issue. Aside from the forward balance of the soloist (understandable in any work for viola and orchestra), the engineering is warm and natural. A very pleasant release.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Viola no 1 in D major by Carl Stamitz
Performer:  Victoria Chiang (Viola)
Conductor:  Markand Thakar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1774; France 
Concerto for Viola in D major by Franz Anton Hoffmeister
Performer:  Victoria Chiang (Viola)
Conductor:  Markand Thakar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Viola in B flat major by Franz Anton Hoffmeister
Performer:  Victoria Chiang (Viola)
Conductor:  Markand Thakar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Beautiful music! June 27, 2012 By Wendy H. (Rockville, MD) See All My Reviews "This is a terrific CD. Both the music and performances are wonderful. I have listened to it over and over since it arrived!" Report Abuse
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