This makes a lot of sense. Robin Ireland, late of the Lindsay
Quartet, ventures into transcriptions made by one of the towering
giants of the Russian viola school, Vadim Borisovsky (1900-72),
who was himself an august member of the Beethoven Quartet. And
Borisovsky remained a vital figure, performing, recording, transcribing
His transcription of the six pieces from Romeo and Juliet
attests to their suitability for the medium of viola and piano.
The suite comes from the first act and lasts about twenty-two
minutes. The deft pizzicati in the second scene, The Street
, are finely conveyed, whilst Ireland and his excellent
colleague Tim Horton catch the soulful warmth of The Young
, through clear articulation. Ireland generates greater
tonal weight in Dances of the Knights
but he remains a
refined player, and not one likely to spill blood. He’s an artist
for whom variation of colour and subtlety of bow weight matter
more than overt expression, as I think one can detect in the Balcony
where Horton also plays with splendid assurance. Together
they make a fine and collegiate ensemble.
The Shostakovich Preludes are best known transcriptively speaking
in Dmitri Tsiganov’s arrangements for violin. There have been
numerous recordings individually by many fiddle players, but Borisovsky’s
viola arrangements are much less well known. Ireland and Horton
perform seven of them. They’re all characterised with acumen,
and brief though they are, their redolent qualities easily survive
the transcriber’s art. I was particularly taken by the duo’s playing
of the off-centre, pawky No.24.
It’s quite a stretch however to the Viola Sonata of Shostakovich,
his last work, finished three days before the composer’s death.
It was actually written not for Borisovsky, but for his successor
in the Beethoven Quartet, Fyodor Druzhinin. The latter also gave
the premiere and I believe the first ever recording, with Michael
Muntyan, on Melodiya in 1977, though I think that Milan Telecky
and Lydia Majlingova were not far behind with their Rediffusion
Aurora LP. The Ireland-Horton duo adopt a more restrained patina
than others, entering into the ghostly, tremolandi-flecked half
light of the first movement with trepidation; the sparse piano
prompts, and reduced dynamics attesting to the end of things.
It’s the finale, an extensive Adagio of uncompromising bleakness
that arguably delineates one’s responses most viscerally to a
performance. Ireland and Horton are excellent guides, but for
a more anguished response one should turn to Bashmet – either
with Richter on Regis RRC1128 or better still with Muntyan on
RCA 0902661273-2. Formidable too are Zimmermann/Höll on EMI and
Kashkashian/Levin on ECM1425.
Nevertheless the more equitable musicianship of this duo offers
its own rewards. Potton Hall proves a first class recording location