Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bernard Zaslav has made an attempt to transcribe Franck’s Violin Sonata for viola simply by assigning some passages to lower octaves. Because of his sturdy musicianship, and, in this case, due to the plaintive beauty of his tone, this approach achieves about as great a success as the premise will allow. In fact, listening to this work on viola resembles watching a colorized movie: some familiar scenes acquire an air of unfamiliarity; the viewer cherishes the new and misses the old. The proportion of discovery to regret in the Zaslavs’s case, though, turns out to be rather high. The opening movement and Recitative-Fantasia fare, perhaps, better than do the second and fourth movements, which rely on intense drama (second) or sublime mystical ecstasy (finale) that those lower octaves can’t quite compass. The viola’s rich tone fits surprisingly well with fatty ninth chords with which the Sonata opens; its philosophical cast (or Zaslav’s) reveals a deeper melancholy in the Recitative. In fact, so convincing does Zaslav’s arrangement sound that occasionally it seems to be the piano (despite Naomi Zaslav’s close communication with her husband), rather than the viola, that’s playing in the wrong register.
Milhaud’s brief, three-movement Second Viola Sonata makes a vivid impression in the Zaslavs’s performance. Bright and fresh in its opening movement (“Champêtre”), darker and leaner in its second (“Dramatique”), and brusquely blustering in its finale (as its title, “Rude,” suggests), it offers the violist plenty of opportunity to explore the instrument’s diverse capabilities—which Zaslav does with unremitting beauty of tone. La bruxelloise, Bernard Zaslav’s brief but well written and insightful notes relate, constitutes one of four sketches for viola and piano that Milhaud wrote for Germain Prévost of the Pro Arte Quartet, each representing one of the ensemble’s residences. Dvo?ák the violist wrote nothing specifically for solo viola, a lacuna that Zaslav has filled by arranging four of his early songs for soprano as a substitute. These the duo plays with such ardent commitment and stylistic sympathy as to make them seem like original works. Of Bloch’s somewhat somber Meditation and Processional and the unfinished Suite for Viola Solo, the former has provided violists with a repertoire item, while the latter, though equally well wrought, will be perhaps unfamiliar, although the rightness of its timbral explorations should overcome whatever aversions listeners might have developed to the solo viola literature, if Hindemith’s works haven’t already broken the barrier. Zaslav warns listeners about Babbitt’s work; but he also cites the composer himself, who believes that listeners will find his Composition relatively accessible, due to its rhythmic design. In any case, the Zaslavs have made it appealing without softening its melodic angularity or filing down its harmonic thorns.
The works by Dvo?ák and Bloch appear on other Music & Arts CDs (the former on CD-953 and the latter on CD-902). The notes identify the Franck, Milhaud, and Babbitt pieces as having been recorded in the mid 1970s and re-mastered from the original tapes by Jonathan Norton. The recorded sound throughout transmits the range of colors of both instruments. Bernard Zaslav sounds like a violist, and nothing else—an effect that not every violist or violinist/violist manqué achieves. In a most sympathetic partnership with Naomi Zaslav, who, like her husband, adapts well to the full range of the styles represented on the program, from Dvo?ák’s warmth to Babbitt’s angularity, his stylistic penetration reveals itself to great advantage. Strongly recommended.
Robert Maxham, FANFARE