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Violent Viola - Esther Apituley
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Adagio for viola and piano (1905) [8:24]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1960)

Sonata in five parts for solo viola, Op.25 No.1 (1922) [17:19]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1973)

Lachrymae (Reflections on a Song of Dowland) for viola and piano Op.48 (1950) [15:49]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Adagio for solo viola, BWV1001 (1720)* [5:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Kaddish for viola and piano (1914)* [5:33]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Chanson Russe for viola and piano (1937)* [4.20]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)

‘Burst forth my tears’, for viola quartet [1:51]; ‘If my complaints could passions move’, for viola quartet [2:30]

Pizzicato, for viola quartet [1:58]

‘Song from Georgia’ for viola trio [2:50]
Henri VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)

Elegie for viola and piano, Op.30 (c. 1854) [7:51]
originally composed for violin and piano*
Esther Apituley (viola); Rië Tanaka (piano); Amsterdam Viola Quartet: Esther Apituley; Rogier van der Tak; Mieke Honingh; Ernst Grapperhaus
rec. January 2004, Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, Rhoon, Holland. DDD


"I wrestle with my viola as if it was my life. It is true that the viola chose me. Not the other way round." Esther Apituley

Challenge Records International, the Netherlands-based independent record label, have released a new recording titled Violent Viola as a showcase for the talents of Dutch violist Esther Apituley.

Violent Viola is a collection which covers an eclectic range of works that feature the viola. Represented are eleven scores from ten composers. They date from the 16th century with two works by John Dowland, through to the 20th century with works from Kodaly and Britten. Three of the compositions were originally scored for violin and piano and have been adapted for the viola and piano. Also included is Apituley’s own brief composition Pizzicato for viola quartet.

Esther Apituley was born in Amsterdam. She started playing the violin at the age of twelve, soon switching to the viola. After graduating from the Amsterdam Sweelinck Conservatory, she took lessons at the Hochschule Für Musik in Berlin. During the early years of her studies, she was also active as a singer and saxophonist in the field of light music. She currently teaches viola at the Amsterdam Sweelinck Conservatory.

In 1990 Apituley gave her first solo viola recital in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Her enthusiastically received performances went some way to disprove the prevailing image of the viola as a voice in the middle range, serving others. She has played as a soloist with the National Ballet Orchestra, North Holland Philharmonic, Metropole Orchestra and the Radio Chamber Orchestra. Her repertoire includes the viola concertos by Berlioz, Bartók and Chiel Meijering as well as Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K364 and Britten’s Lachrymae.

Alongside the two greatest viola players of our time, Kim Kashkashian and Yuri Bashmet, Apituley has worked tirelessly to bring the viola out from under the shadows of the violin and cello. She sees her priority to present programmes and projects that are characterised by their originality, versatility, and accessibility to the audience. In 2000, she founded the Amsterdam Viola Quartet. Together with their emphasis on distinctive performance presentation their eclectic repertoire consists of contemporary and established classical music along with tango and present day styles.

Hindemith was part of a dying breed of composers who were known for performing their own works. He would often play this Sonata in five parts for solo viola on his tours of Europe and the USA. One its most striking features is its tightness in formal construction. There are many parts, especially the first and fourth movements, which sound strikingly suggestive of a steam locomotive. Apituley provides robustly serious and haunting playing in the angular rhythms and toneless virtuosity of this spectacular work. She achieves consistent tension, singing strongly with her richest tone. The biting machine gun-like athleticism of the penultimate movement is astonishingly well performed. I have alternative in my collections from Hirofumi Fukai on Signum SIGX38-00 and Nobuko Imai on BIS CD571 but none of these is superior to Apituley’s winning account.

Britten’s Lachrymae was written in 1950 and dedicated at Aldeburgh to the violist, William Primrose "to reward him for coming to the Festival." Despite Britten’s own skill as a violist, Lachrymae is his only work in which the viola is the principal soloist. Lachrymae comprises a set of ten variations with a slow introduction and coda on the opening part of Dowland’s lute song. With authority and concentration the duo of Apituley and Tanaka take the listener through this shadowy, almost sinister reverie. Apituley’s playing makes this a moving experience that surpasses the much admired evergreen 1963 London account from violist Margaret Major, with Britten on the piano, on BBC Music BBCB 8014-2.

The exquisite Adagio is one of Kodály’s most attractive scores, a reflectively poignant lament that seems evocative of a lost love affair. Grave and introspective the score comes to a passionate climax in the highest register of the instrument. Before hearing this interpretation I didn’t realise that this score could be so affecting. The intense and characterful playing brings a shiver or two down the spine. A magical performance.

Vieuxtemps’s Elégie was published in 1854. This interpretation is a devoutly moving experience. The sweeping melodic lines of this openly arresting score are especially alluring in Apituley’s hands. This excellent account is a match for the established recording from Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin on EMC 8277442.

Kaddish is a viola and piano arrangement of the first of Ravel’s Deux Mélodies Hébraïques for voice and piano from 1914. It is a liturgical chant, a prayer for the dead, originating in the 13th century. The words of the chant being omitted, the music still profoundly carries the lamenting contents. A popular score, Ravel’s Kaddish has been widely circulated in various arrangements. Apituley conveys a deeply reverential quality to her exceptional playing which is closely caught.

J.S. Bach’s Adagio is an arrangement for solo viola of the first movement from the first sonata in his set of six Sonata and Partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001. The indomitable Apituley plays it with convincing directness and irrefutable confidence.

The Chanson Russe (Russian maiden’s song) is an adaptation of the Parasha’s aria from Stravinsky’s comic opera Mavra. This is a work of poignant emotions, of haunting beauty, of wistful melancholy. The interpretation here is evocative of swaggering down a city street without a care in the world.

Challenge Classics have provided an ice cool and brightly detailed sound quality that is well balanced. On the downside I found the track listings rather confusing and irritatingly the timings are not provided. The annotation contained very little information on the actual works.

Those looking for a collection of rewarding and approachable string music that tends to avoid the mainstream need not hesitate. Esther Apituley plays her ‘Violent Viola’ with distinction.

Michael Cookson


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