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
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
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.