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Lillian FUCHS (1902-1995)
Sixteen Fantasy Etudes (1959) [42.20]
Sonata Pastorale for Unaccompanied Viola (1956) [12.04]
Fifteen Characteristic Studies for Viola (1965) [32.35]
Twelve Caprices for Viola (1950) [26.20]
Jeanne Mallow (viola by Gasparo de SalÚ)
rec. St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 29 September 2003
Notes in English. Photo of the performer and her instrument.
NAXOS 8.557932-33 [54.14 + 58.46]

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In the 1950's Lillian Fuchs recorded her arrangements of the Bach solo cello suites and the critical appraisal was very positive. She also arranged the Bach solo violin sonatas for the viola but apparently never recorded them. But violists are grateful to her for what she did throughout her career: writing, recording and concertizing to improve the status of the viola as a solo instrument, instead of being merely the harmonic glue that holds the top and bottom of an ensemble together. We know that the bass line in a baroque ensemble is generally doubled by the harpsichord. But when you work with figured bass you see clearly that one of its functions is to emphasize the viola part and make it more audible, to help it to fill in the middle harmonies. 

The view from the viola is of the inside of the instrumental texture both up and down. To play the viola, as did, for example, Hermann Scherchen, is to be aware of the inner structure of the music, be it chamber or symphonic. As conductors, violists are generally concerned that the inner voices be heard and generally produce satisfying, analytical, performances of works that do not depend on flash or dazzle to make their point.

We learn from a recent treatise on musical instruments (Musical Instruments: History, Technology and Performance of Instruments of Western Music by Campbell, Greated, and Myers. OUP, 2004, ISBN 0-19-816504-8) that the viola is actually too small for its tuning to be a scale model of the violin. Great skill and experience is required to place the resonances of the box so as to radiate the sound effectively, and a good viola is not only more difficult to make that a good violin but more difficult to play as well, especially if the player is to bring out the dark, contralto register that is the unique property of this instrument. Ms. Mallow achieves some deeply wonderful growls from her instrument as well as soaring sweet lyricism, and makes everything sound easy to play, which it most certainly is not.

Of the works presented here, the Sonata Pastorale is the most musical, the one you are most likely to listen to repeatedly. The other works are pedagogical and although there are many moments of great beauty and interest, there is also some sawing and running up and down, the curse of music for solo string instruments. It is difficult to imagine this music being more musically or more sympathetically performed than it is here by Fuchsí granddaughter, Jeanne Mallow, using her grandmotherís renowned instrument. 

Paul Shoemaker 

see also Review by David Blomenberg 


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