The Vaughan Williams
Suite for viola and orchestra is made
up of a mosaic of eight short movements.
It was premiered in 1934 when Lionel
Tertis was the soloist with the orchestra
at the Queen’s Hall conducted by Malcolm
Sargent. There were two recordings during
the LP era - the first on Pye Golden
Guinea with Robert Starer as the soloist
and the second being on RCA (and then
Chandos) from Frederick Riddle with
the Bournemouth Sinfonietta conducted
by Norman Del Mar. This is now available
on a Chandos twofer: CHAN 241-9.[review]
The Chandos is ADD from circa 1977;
the Pye from circa 1966.
This Crystal recording
is the first full digital recording
of the Suite whose nine movements are
in three groups: Group 1: Prelude,
Carol, Christmas Dance;
Group 2: Ballad, Moto perpetuo;
Group 3: Musette, Polka mélancolique,
There is little to
choose in timing between Schotten and
Riddle. Schotten has more vinegary intense
rosin in his tone than Riddle and he
is recorded very closely. The sound
for Riddle is slightly more natural
in effect but he is balanced reticently
and registers with less presence. Riddle’s
viola is more of the still small voice
- for example in the Musette.
Riddle is not as gutty and gutsy as
Schotten in the livelier movements.
The Suite has many
lovely moments and in its grace, variation
and beauty can be compared with another
oft-dismissed work: Finzi's Five
Bagatelles. After a lovely chanting
Prelude comes a Carol
whose melody lacks the distinction of
Vaughan Williams' best. It is however
most beautifully done. The Christmas
Dance has that sweet combination
of resiny wormwood and fruity song (00.38).
The music skips like My Pretty Bess
from Five Tudor Portraits.
The Ballad sings of Cotswold
sun-warmed afternoons and of High Bredon;
by the way, how long before someone
records Julius Harrison's Bredon
Hill for violin and orchestra. Ballad
is a lovely movement as remarkable
as the Prelude. The Moto Perpetuo
is trickily busy and as patterned as
the Concerto Accademico and the
Holst Double Violin Concerto. Musette
is unassuming and a little nondescript.
Though again the treatment is lovely
it leaves little trace after it is finished.
The Polka Mélancolique is
a superb confection: part gawky and
part troubadour Aubade. The Galop
has the chase-and-catch-me feeling
of the Seasongs and of parts
of The Poisoned Kiss and I
mun be married a Sunday from Sir
John in Love. Schotten and Trevor
with his Slovak orchestra deliver a
superb performance that has me hoping
that with a violinist collaborator they
will soon turn to Arthur Benjamin’s
Overture, Elegy and Waltz (viola
and orchestra); Violin Concerto and
the Romantic Fantasy for violin,
viola and orchestra - the perfect coupling.
The flighty witchery
of Kodaly's transcription of Bach's
Fantasia Cromatica sounds well
in this company. It is not at all precious
or Dresden china delicate. In fact it
bursts the emotional bounds of Bach's
protestant adherence. Wilhelm Friedeman
(1710-1784) was the eldest of Bach's
twenty children. His life has been described
as the melancholy spectacle of a
ruined genius. This music shows
a Mozartian grace and this is lent a
large scale by a recording that moves
unflinchingly close to the viola and
the Carole Terry’s harpsichord. As in
the Fantasia Cromatica there
are moments when it is as if there is
an orchestra there.
Chicagoan Michael Colgrass
worked as a percussionist in jazz ensembles,
concert orchestras, opera and ballet.
He was instrumentalist in the original
production of Bernstein's Westside
Story and in the Stravinsky conducts
Stravinsky project on CBS-Sony,
now BMG. Colgrass wrote the Variations
for Four Drums and viola for violist
Emanuel Vardi. It was premiered at the
Five Spot Cafe in New York City in 1957.
There is a an introduction, five variations
and a finale. Frank Epstein uses four
small shallow drums tuned to cover the
harmonics between C and E flat. Rototoms
were also used. None of the instruments
are used in a way that does any violence
to their natural voice. The viola sings
and chants, chases, hectors and invokes.
The combination of viola and percussion
works exceptionally well. This is in
fact a traditional work with a restrained
infusion of Bartók alongside
Prokofiev and Walton.
This is a varied viola
anthology that works extremely well.