Notes and Editorial Reviews
Harold in Italy.
Viola Sonata, “Irish Sonata”
Philip Dukes (va); Piers Lane (pn)
NAXOS 8.573011 (71:53)
Many readers know that Liszt transcribed Berlioz’s
—brilliantly—for piano, and
armed with that knowledge, they should not be shocked that he did the same for the older French master’s
Harold in Italy
, turning it into a work for viola and piano. According to Keith Anderson’s notes, it took a stunning 43 years for Liszt repeatedly to revise and finally publish his transcription, which became available in 1881, 12 years after Berlioz’s death and five years before his own. Given Berlioz’s acuity as an orchestrator, I’m not surprised that Liszt took such pains, and even if the result doesn’t really compete with Berlioz’s original, it at least deserves the right to exist in its own parallel universe. I don’t know if Liszt’s transcription is “rarely heard” in concert, but it is not rare on disc—there are at least a half dozen recordings of it. The version that I have in my collection is one with violist Bruno Pasquier and pianist Jean-François Heisser in Harmonia Mundi’s
series. The present performers are a little more leisurely, although not significantly so. Pasquier definitely produces many a gorgeous sound, but he and Heisser are perhaps a little too self-consciously “artful” next to the more plain-spoken Dukes and Lane on the current release. They present Harold as more of an innocent, whereas Pasquier and Heisser suggest that Byron’s hero is a voluptuary at heart.
is late Liszt, dating from 1880. Composed for the now obscure viola alta, the viola’s big brother, it originated as a much earlier song,
Oh pourquoi donc
. Spare and eloquent, even when the viola is playing arpeggios (a passage very similar to one in
!), it serves as a quiet interlude before the last work on this CD.
That work is the 22-minute “Irish Sonata” by one Kurt Roger (1895–1966). Naxos claims that this is its first recording, and it serves as a follow-up to the label’s all-Roger disc (8.572238) released in 2009, which
colleague Robert Markow liked, for the most part. Given his dates and the fact that he was a pupil of Schoenberg, you might think that Roger’s Sonata would be an odd disc-mate for Liszt, with and without Berlioz. The Sonata is thoroughly tonal, however, and although it is a 20th-century work, it very definitely has its roots in the previous century. What makes it Irish? Well, Roger’s viola-playing wife was Irish, so I guess that’s all the explanation one needs; it doesn’t sound particularly Irish otherwise. Roger seems to have been fond of busily contrapuntal writing. Although some parts of this Sonata sound more contrived than inspired, this is, overall, an interesting and consistently attractive work which in no way deserves the oblivion it has suffered up until now. Dukes and Lane don’t exaggerate its expressiveness. Their technically assured “face value” performance makes a good case for it.
Everything goes well on this CD, so if you are curious about the music, there is no reason to hold back.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Harold en Italie, Op. 16 by Hector Berlioz
Philip Dukes (Viola),
Piers Lane (Piano)
Written: 1834; France
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