Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Viola Sonata (1824) [28:43]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Viola Sonata in C major Op.147 (1975) [32:36]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Elegy in G minor Op.44 (1893) [6:12]
Karel Špelina (viola)
Karel Friesl (piano – Mendelssohn)
Lydie Majlingová (piano – Shostakovich)
Josef Halá (piano – Glazunov)
rec. Czech Radio March 1972-82; 1976 (Shostakovich)
ARCO DIVA UP 0127-2 131 [67:44]
The main focus here, as the typography suggests, is Karel Špelina. Admirers of the Czech violist will know that he has a decent sized discography ranging from Bach to Vanhal via Hindemith, Honegger, LukáŠ, Milhaud and Reicha. Now we have some more to add, in the shape of radio performances of two sonatas and Glazunov’s Elegy. Only the Shostakovich is dated with certainty in the notes – 9 March 1976 to be exact – but they all come from the period 1972-82.
Much is made of the fact that Špelina’s broadcast predated the Fyodor Druzhinin/Michael Muntyan Melodiya LP, though that’s not really desperately interesting given that the Czech performance was not a commercial recording. Of rather more importance, to me at least, is the fact that his pianist, Russian-born, Moscow-trained Lydia Majlingova did make a recording soon after the Druzhinin-Muntyan, but with violist Milan Telecky on Rediffusion Aurora. This gives a certain degree of authority to the performance and also suggests an independence of the Russian model, which I assume is the tacit point being made by Arco Diva in their notes. The duo is a minute slower than the recent Robin Ireland/Tim Horton duo on Nimbus [NI 6117] but tends to generate a greater weight of anguish, and also to mine the phantom folkloric episodes with greater vitality. Speed of vibrato and tonal colour is astutely varied – and Špelina locates a fragility as well as a heart beat of hope in the music. He never overbows. It’s a bit of a pity that the tape has some drizzle, and isn’t in the best of nick, but it’s not disastrous.
The Mendelssohn Viola Sonata is hardly a favourite and wasn’t published until 1966. But Špelina and Karel Friesl dig in with commendable warmth and spirit, finding an intense Adagio introduction and varying dynamics to diminish the sometimes by-rote nature of the writing. There’s plenty of tone and bite in the Menuetto, but the best playing is reserved for the variations Andante finale. The baroque tinged elements are meat and drink to the violist, and he captures both the stentorian and noble elements with captivating skill. The solo piano variation is especially lovely too, and there’s plenty of flair from both men in the coda.
The violist joins with a regular sonata partner, Josef Halá, for Glazunov’s Elegy, which is phrased with great skill.
Given the provenance of these radio performances, and the nature of the repertoire, this is really an artist-led release. It’s fortunate then that Špelina is an outstanding player.
Jonathan Woolf
Špelina is an outstanding player.