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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor Op 85 (1919) (arr. viola Lionel Tertis (1928) amended David Aaron Carpenter) [29:08]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Viola Concerto (1985) [35:21]
David Aaron Carpenter (viola)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. 30 June and 1 July, 2008, AIR Studios, London
ONDINE ODE1153-2 [64:40]
Experience Classicsonline

The obvious comparison point for the Elgar is Rivka Golani’s pioneering 1989 recording of the Tertis arrangement, made for Conifer but currently unavailable. However there is a difference, because David Aaron Carpenter has amended Lionel Tertis’s 1928 work, so the two are not strictly speaking comparable.

Carpenter has a lighter, rather more alto-inclined sonority; hers is weightier. His opening Adagio is slower and more rhetorical, the conducting appropriately more measured. Golani and Handley are faster, as Handley was wont to be. I must note that the transition to the moderato is that much stronger in the Golani/Handley reading; the basses and brass are more powerful, the Carpenter/Eschenbach more languid.

The registral changes involved in this adaptation will always bring one up short, no matter who’s playing, but they offer a jolt that adds to the demands of listening to the work in its Elgar-sanctioned viola guise. Then there are the emendations. Carpenter does not say specifically what he’s done and nor do the notes but, for example, he’s amended Tertis’s arco to pizzicato at the start of the second movement Lento. It thereby perhaps loses a parallel virtuosic thrust but maybe it’s more cellistically pure that way. I like the way Carpenter plays; he’s a splendid player with a fine tone. That said those glorious orchestral touches such as the rapid quicksilver descending figures in this movement are better realised by Handley - and more whimsically too.

Carpenter-Escehnbach are a little quicker in the slow movement - a little surprisingly perhaps - than Golani/Handley but also more obviously emotional. Golani is more privy to her emotions, and her recording actually is better suited in this respect, in its veiled quality. This Ondine is rather cut and dried and the dynamics don’t really register as they should; it means overall, despite the heartfelt ethos, the playing comes across as slightly less effective than I think it might be. Carpenter has amended some of Tertis’s luscious writing at the start of the finale; if I find him too tremulous toward the end then I find many a cellist too sentimental here as well. I remember Tortelier’s television Masterclass cry of ‘I am Engleesh, I am Engleesh’ at the work’s zenith. Nobility is required (see Tortelier himself, Fournier, Pini et al), not blood on the floor.

Still I admired the performance. The rapport is fine, ensemble is solid. The emendations are thought-provoking and novel and Tertis’s work is hardly an everyday event. This is an ingenious piece of work, though Golani’s is the more idiomatic I think.

The companion work is Schnittke’s authentic 1985 Viola Concerto, another masterpiece. Powerfully introspective it exerts a momentous vortex-like pull. The central Allegro molto sweeps and swoops in dramatic fashion, its ghostly dance patina richly etched and pointed. Carpenter’s intonation remains unbreached even in the highest positions, and as the reverie incrementally ratchets tension, infiltrating nightmare and torment (from around 12:00 in the central movement) he responds with unsullied tone. He surmounts the paragraphal considerations as well, not least in the finale which can easily dissipate unless a strong and rigorous pair are in close accord. Fortunately they are here. This is all most movingly done. Its proportions remind me of Bashmet’s celebrated première recording (Melodiya 10.00068) which is my preferred choice, still. Imai on BIS 447 plays beautifully and hers is a sleeper performance; she’s a wonderful artist whatever she plays. Van Keulen surprised me with her articulacy as a violist (Koch 1523). Kaskashian drives through the Concerto in record time on ECM 1471 - a performance for lovers of extremes.

Jonathan Woolf


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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