Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Six Pieces from the ballet Romeo and Juliet (1935) – transcribed by Vadim Borisovsky [22:14]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Seven Preludes from Op.34 (1933) – transcribed by Vadim Borisovsky; Nos.10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 24 [10:26]
Viola Sonata Op.147 (1975) [31:36]
Robin Ireland (viola)
Tim Horton (piano)
rec. July 2009 at Potton Hall, Suffolk
NIMBUS NI 6117 [65:30]
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 and inspiring.
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 Awakens, are finely conveyed, whilst Ireland and his excellent colleague Tim Horton catch the soulful warmth of The Young Juliet, 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 Scene 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 once again.
Jonathan Woolf

A fine and collegiate ensemble ... see Full Review