The Virtuoso Viola
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Le Tombeau de Ravel (1958) [13:30]
Georges ENESCU (1881-1955)
Pièce de Concert (1906) [9:13]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasia cromatica arranged for solo viola (1950) by Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967) [7:25]
Joseph JONGEN (1873-1953)
Introduction et Danse Op.102 (1935) [7:35]
Henry VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Capriccio for solo viola (pub. 1854) [3:21]
Elégie Op.30 [5:47]
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Sonata per la gran viola Op.35 (c. 1834); cadenzas by Altar Arad [14:35]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-19620
Praeludium and Allegro [4:33]
Bernard SHORE (1896-1985)
Scherzo (pub. 1933) [2:41]
Roger Chase (viola)
Michiko Otaki (piano)
rec. January and June 2007, Potton Hall, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.572293 [68:43]

The jewel box blurb described this recital as ‘a deliciously varied musical feast’. In it Roger Chase and Michiko Otaki pursue such fare with flair and fervour. The programme is spiced with favourites but rather more challenging, palette testing dishes are also brought to the table.

Arthur Benjamin’s Le Tombeau de Ravel is not heard as often as it might be. It was originally composed in 1958 for William Primrose, but his increasing deafness meant plans had to be altered. Based formally on Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales it embraces both Benjamin’s admiration for Ravel and indeed his own sense of swaying wit. The puckishly detailed pizzicati episode is a particularly successful element of this performance and the finely etched rubati similarly. Chase plays the Enescu Pièce de Concert with hooded warmth and the music’s strongly Gallic associations mark a distinct associative link with the (very different) Benjamin-Ravel. Elegance of phrasing and a complete mastery of the chromatic instincts of the music are a given with Chase.

The Bach-Kodály is fast approaching standard fare by now, though it’s heard more on disc than in the concert hall. Kodály had written transcriptions of three Bach Chorale Preludes for cello and piano back in 1924. He was later, in 1951, to arrange the E flat minor Prelude and Fugue for the same combination of instruments. But the year before, he’d written this Chromatic Fantasia transcription for solo viola. I last heard it in Sibylle Langmaack’s recital on Antes [BM-CD 31.9261] which presents an all-solo viola recital. But Chase proves to have the warmer tone.

Jongen’s Introduction et Danse was dedicated to the doyen of French violists, Maurice Vieux. It’s quite late (1935) to be quite so impressionistically imbued but it’s very well written and evocatively so, with a dance pattern especially in the faster section. One would expect Vieuxtemps to contribute some virtuosic meat. But Chase has chosen well. The Capriccio for solo viola is noble and grave and whilst the Elégie is more extrovert and romantic it’s also suffused with a quite vivid sense of melancholia and quasi-cadential eloquence. Chase, by the way, plays on Lionel Tertis’s Montagnana viola and the Master would, I think, be pleased. After one wizard comes another, this time the Grand Master, Paganini himself whose Sonata per la gran viola is more a variation fest. The long piano introduction ratchets tension for the ensuing theatrical soliloquy; plenty of cocksure strutting, and Rossinian drama, with oh-so-Paganinian whistling to boot. Then we have the famed Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro, dispatched with manly authority, though no one can ever really emulate Tertis’s own recording of this. To end we have a piece by Chase’s old teacher, that grand player Bernard Shore, who modestly said to Chase, when the younger man played it to him, that he’d never dared play his own Scherzo in public. It’s a charmer with folkish hue.

This recital has a strongly Francophile taste but it also admits of other styles and sonorities with liberal generosity. The Chase-Otaki duo plays with assurance and perception and they’ve been well recorded. Surely we are going to have even meatier things from them in due course?

Jonathan Woolf