This is the second
collection of studies for stringed instrument I’ve received
recently. The first was an integral recording of Rodolphe
Kreutzer’s violin studies, the review of which should be showing
up on this site soon.
The present studies
for viola are by American violinist and teacher Lillian Fuchs,
who taught, as the liner-notes indicate, at some of the top
conservatories in America: the
Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, to name but two.
Fuchs’s siblings made their marks on music, with one brother
a long-standing cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra and another
brother a well-known teacher of violin at Juilliard. As a
performer, Lillian generated enough intensity and fire to
inspire works from composers such as Martinů, who composed
his Madrigals for her and her brother Joseph.
Of the four works presented
here, it could be argued that only one was originally intended
for public performance. The Etudes, Studies and Caprices were
composed specifically to address various difficulties and
technical points. They are of varying degrees of difficulty
ranging from the more elementary aspects addressed by the
Characteristic Studies up to the difficult Caprices composed
In comparison with
the Kreutzer studies I mentioned earlier (Kalan CD 377), these
have less of an atmosphere of the practice room, save for
the opening Fantasy Etude on disc one, which pursues its runs
through various keys. The pieces are accessible, if of varying
degrees of depth. A standout is the fourteenth fantasy etude,
with a weeping melody line, meltingly played by Jeanne Mallow.
Disc One closes with
the Sonata Pastorale for Unaccompanied Viola of 1956. Here
the tonality is more challenging and modern; the opening movement
certainly holds interest, and bears less of a similarity to
Bartók than to the string music Shostakovich was to compose
throughout the sixties and early seventies. The second movement,
from which the sonata takes its name, shows a great sensitivity
— the writing shows the sonority of the viola and Mallow brings
out these darker tones beautifully. It is here that one feels
an alignment most strongly to the sound-world of Shostakovich.
The ending movement has certain whiffs of the Shostakovich
first violin concerto, and even though it lacks the icy grandeur
of that piece, of the works here, the Sonata Pastorale holds
the greatest allure for this reviewer.
Disc two opens with
the easiest of the study piece series, the Characteristic
Studies. These show more of a tendency toward repeating figures
up and down the scale, but resist sounding like finger exercises.
The second of these, marked allegretto, moves swiftly
and darkly through the middle range of the instrument. The
mournful Andante that follows is a lovely melody that
stands up to repeated listening.
The Caprices hold varying
challenges with regard to bowing and double and triple stops.
The second study is a quietly intense two minutes that are
a pleasure to hear, and the difficulty of the 6th
study is readily apparent, with its constant double-stopping
and drones under a swift melody.
Mallow’s tone is good,
and the recording aesthetic is close, but with a sense of
acoustic that gives enough ambience to complement the playing.
As mentioned, the depth of some of the pieces varies, and
for me the Fantasy etudes are more uneven than the others.
I rather enjoy the Sonata Pastorale and the Caprices and would
appreciate seeing further performances of these pieces being
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