Viola Concerto No 1 in D [22:11] Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER(1754-1812)
Viola Concerto in D [20:47]
Viola Concerto in B flat [20:55]
Victoria Chiang (viola)
Baltimore Chamber Orchestra/Markand Thakar
rec. 5-6, 18-19 May, 2009, Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College,
Towson, Maryland, USA NAXOS 8.572162 [63:53]
The main attraction here will be the fact that, in the classical
era, the viola was not a frequently-used solo instrument. Until
the twentieth century and composers like Bartók, Walton,
Hindemith, Pettersson and Bloch, the viola concerto repertoire
is remarkably thin: two concertos by Franz Hoffmeister and a
series by Carl, Anton and Johann Stamitz from the classical
period, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a nearly-forgotten
concerto for viola and clarinet by Max Bruch, and two large-scale
virtuoso works by York Bowen and Cecil Forsyth, played by Lawrence
Power on a fascinating Hyperion CD.
The concertos themselves are elegant classical creations, worthy
examples of the era of Mozart and Haydn without ever really
challenging the ears, or the supremacy of that duo. The solo
instrument is the primary appeal: Stamitz and Hoffmeister clearly
have an affection for the viola and an understanding of what
it can do as a soloist. The stereotype of the viola as a sad
instrument fit for mourning or bitter emotional episodes, the
way it was typecast by composers as different as Walton and
Brahms, is not at all in evidence here: all three concertos
are in major keys and all three demonstrate the instrument to
be a versatile and interesting star.
Hoffmeister is especially free with his soloist: the viola gets
an extended solo in the adagio of the concerto in D, and in
the B flat adagio sings nearly from start to finish a melody
which weaves up and down across the registers. There are challenging
double-stops and good tunes in every movement. Stamitz, on the
other hand, adds resonant clarinets to the wind section and
seems, especially in the first movement and its epic cadenza,
to be working on a slightly bigger scale than Hoffmeister’s
serenade-like works. Strikingly, the Stamitz slow movement briefly
features the soloist in duet with the orchestral viola section.
These are not period-instrument or particularly period-informed
performances; they use tasteful vibrato and contemporary strings.
The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra is up to all its demands, Markand
Thakar is a steady hand at the helm, and Victoria Chiang, professor
at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, makes for a superb
soloist, with no second thoughts about what technical demands
there are and with the richness of tone necessary to really
“sell” the viola as solo instrument.
For those who enjoy this - and those who listen no doubt will
- more of the Stamitz family’s viola concertos are available
on a Supraphon disc, and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Thakar,
and Chiang last year collaborated on an intriguing disc of concertante
works by Ignaz Pleyel, who was very roughly a contemporary of
Beethoven. The Pleyel album comes with a downloadable bonus
track which extends the playing time to 90+ minutes, though
if you acquire it as a download there’s no extra step.
If you have either of those two discs, this is a logical next
step, and a happy one too.
As a part of the Naxos Digital line, this album is currently
only available for download at the website Classicsonline, where
it sells for rather less than the price of a physical compact
disc. Other download retailers, like eMusic and iTunes, stock
it as well. Naxos informs me that a standard CD is schedules
for July 2011.
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