Luigi Alberto Bianchi makes a strong case for Reger's Viola
Suites. While they are clearly very difficult, they are not
filled with overtly virtuosic music, so their continuing attraction
to violists may simply be down to the general paucity of their
But Bianchi demonstrates that there is some fine music here.
He has a rich, warm tone, but that doesn't impede his agility
around the top end of the instrument. In general, it is very
secure playing, but very fluid too. He often shapes phrases
with some quite extreme rubato at both ends, although his dynamics
tend to be more stepped, distinguishing one phrase from the
Reger isn't known as a melodist, mainly because his themes tend
to lack memorability, but there is a strong lyrical dimension
to this music that Bianchi brings to the fore. I love the way
that he deals with Reger's often rambling phrase structuring.
Rather than try to focus the end of the phrase on the - often
ambiguous - cadence, he usually prefers to let it trail off,
as if the composer has lost his train of thought and the performer
has no intention of reminding him.
As is probably obvious from the above comments, this is not
the sort of reading that emphasises the neo-Baroque dimension
of the Suites. In fairness, it is not as pronounced here as
in Reger's Cello Suites, but even so, Bianchi seems intent on
positioning this music squarely at the end of the Romantic period,
with thoughts of Bach all but forgotten. There are a few exceptional
movements, the allegretto third movement of the Second Suite
for example, but even here the Baroque formality is only apparent
in the dance rhythms and not in any particular metrical discipline
in the performance.
Bianchi's viola has an interesting story behind it. It is a
1595 Amati, 'modernised' - and Bianchi himself has surprisingly
few reservations about that process - by the William Hill workshop
in the late 19th century. The instrument was stolen
from him in 1980 and only returned in 2005 when it was found
in a barn. He is obviously more careful with it now, as it currently
resides in Cremona, no doubt in some specialist repository.
There are photographs of it in the liner and it is clearly a
The sound quality is fairly good, but there are a few glitches
here and there that really stand out, especially when listening
on headphones. They sound like tape edits, but given their positions
- one is in the first note of the Second Suite - that can't
possibly be the case. A gremlin somewhere in the mastering process
Bianchi's one big mistake on this disc is to open it with Reger's
Seventh Violin Sonata, performing it himself on the violin.
He is clearly a competent violinist - he started playing in
the early 80s, presumably as a practical response to the theft
of his viola - but his skills on that instrument don't come
close to his mastery of the viola. As a result, the Sonata sounds
precarious throughout, with the intonation and the articulation
always only just coming up to scratch. His timbre in the top
register of the violin also leaves something to be desired,
a great shame considering how elegantly he plays at the top
of the viola fingerboard.
A disappointing filler, then, to an otherwise satisfying disc
of Reger chamber music. The sheer Romanticism of the readings
make this a somewhat idiosyncratic reading. But then, it is
solo chamber music, so you can't blame the player for doing
things exactly the way he wants.