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William PRIMROSE (1904-1982) - Viola Transcriptions
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887) Nocturne
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Litany for All Soul’s Day
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Notturno Op.42 (arr. from Serenade, Op.8)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Träume (Wesendonck Lieder, No.5)
Julian AGUIRRE (1868-1924)/Jascha Heifetz (1900-1987) Huella
Edgar Daniele del VALLE (1861-1920)/Jascha Heifetz (1900-1987) Ao Pé da Fogueira
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840) La Campanella (from Violin concerto No.2)
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959) Bachianas Brasileiras No.5
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Adagietto from L’Arlésienne Suite No.1
Efrem ZIMBALIST (1889-1985) Sarasateana
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) None but the lonely heart
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Op.105 No.1
Roberto Díaz (viola)
Robert Koenig (piano)
rec. Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto, Canada,  8-10 November 2004
NAXOS 8.557391 [65.30]


It’s been an enjoyable experience listening to Roberto Díaz and Robert Koenig’s performances of William Primrose’s transcriptions. Even more salutary has been the experience of pitting Díaz against Primrose himself, in those pieces that the Scotsman recorded. Primrose enjoyed transcribing songful melody spicing them with salty, rhythmic Latin Americana and these two facets of his art, though he was very modest about them, share disc space with Efrem Zimbalist’s own Sarasateana. This was something Primrose famously recorded to his own dissatisfaction, though the disc was nevertheless issued and hearing it many years later the violist found he very much liked it after all.

Naxos promotes the fact that Díaz plays Primrose’s own Brothers Amati viola, newly restored, and this supposedly lends some piquancy to the proceedings, as does the fact that Díaz’s father was a Primrose pupil. There’s no reason however why Díaz should seek to emulate the older player and indeed he proves an individualist resistant to the more visceral and overtly tangy properties evinced by Primrose. So Díaz is consistently slower and more languorous, less given to rubati and timbral contrasts – more patrician, in a word. Primrose’s 1947 recordings, with the excellent David Stimer, of a number of these pieces can be found on Biddulph 80147-2; boxily recorded no doubt but full of brilliant colour and life.

The Aguirre/Heifetz, to take one example, sees a gruff Primrose exploring brilliant contrastive devices, whereas Díaz prefers a more sanguine and horizontal elegance of expression. The Valle/Heifetz doesn’t really come across as "allegro comodo" in Díaz’s hands and sounds rather literal after the Scotsman. There are only three movements here from Primrose’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Op.8 Serenade – we could have nicely done with them all. To Primrose’s dark grained incision, his faster tempi and tighter vibrato we can contrast Díaz’s more gentlemanly reserve. Something Primrose exploited to the full in the Zimbalist was fiery accenting. What sets his playing here apart is the fiery drive of the Polo, the timbral contrasts he generates throughout and the tension of the Zapateado, and so on.

To be sure Díaz spreads out languorously in the Borodin and proves an expressive exponent of the Schubert Litany. His vibrato usage is cannily and seductively varied in the Wagner. But one misses Primrose’s jutting panache in the Paganini and the brilliance of his incision in the more rollicking pieces. Which is no more than saying that Díaz exercises his right to see things differently, I suppose.

One can hear subtle differences in the hall acoustic from session to session even though the recordings took place within the space of a few days, but only through listening via headphones. Otherwise there’s a fine balance between instruments. I’ve not mentioned Koenig much; he follows his partner with sensitivity and reflects the broadly generous music-making very adeptly. Díaz meanwhile never forces through the tone, and never seeks to emulate the tougher, more brittle and incisive sound cultivated on the same instrument by the older player. It’s an adroit tribute from one violist to another but interested parties should certainly seek out Primrose’s own recordings; they bring tremendous reserves of energy and life and no little athletic poetry.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Chris Fifield


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