Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Viola Concerto Op.37 (1980-84) [32:31]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Viola Concerto (1945), edited and completed by Tibor Serly Sz120 [21:33]
Tibor SERLY (1901-1978)
Rhapsody for viola and orchestra (1946-48) [8:54]
Lawrence Power (viola)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. August 2009, Grieghallen, Bergen
HYPERION CDA67687 [62:58]

The geographical axis of this disc is Hungarian, and its watchword is excellence. The two major concertos are played with tremendous insight and perceptive control, and Serly’s Rhapsody comes as a tangy and enjoyable encore.

Rózsa’s Viola Concerto is certainly not as well known as the Violin Concerto, but it’s a fine work nonetheless and repays repeated hearing. It was Gregor Piatigorsky who suggested that Rózsa should write it, and the composer duly did so during the years 1980-84, an undertaking interrupted however by his film score commissions. It was premiered in 1984 by Pinchas Zukerman and André Previn in Pittsburgh. It’s a marvellously vivid concerto, and its orientation towards Bloch and Bartók – that’s a rough stylistic approximation – is allied to a strong sense of colouristic rhapsody. There are folkloric moments in the first movement, as well as a strongly conceived cadenza, followed by ruminative textures. This impressive, quite long movement is followed by a rhythmically chiselled Allegro giocoso and that in turn by a slow movement whose warmth includes taking the viola quite high. Booklet writer Calum MacDonald notes a reference to the composer’s 1953 film music for Julius Caesar. The finale alternates between dynamism and languid, predominantly nostalgic sentiment.

Bartók’s concerto, in the accustomed Tibor Serly edition, makes another fine vehicle for Lawrence Power, who demonstrates once again that he is amongst the warmest-toned and most communicative soloists on his instrument now before the public. It’s this quality that is most apparent in a performance that is very different from that of Kim Kashkashian and the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra [ECM4654202], which is less heavily vibrated, as it is indeed from the pioneering William Primrose [with the Concertgebouw and Klemperer; ARPCD0142]. Power and Litton take enough rubati to make the most of those folk incidents that are part of the fabric of the music and together they make a convincing case for the profuse lyric impulse that runs throughout the concerto.

Serly actually wrote a Viola Concerto but here we have his Rhapsody for viola and orchestra, written in the years after Bartók’s death. It’s a light-hearted piece, adeptly but not over-orchestrated, varying its material – which derives from Bartok’s For Children piano album – and providing the solace of colour and dance.

The recording balance throughout is really first class. I’ve not mentioned yet the Bergen Philharmonic but they display their mettle fully in the Rózsa, which is the piece that allows them fullest rein to display their rhythmic vitality and virtuosity. Power and Litton make a most sympathetic pairing, and can be proud of this disc in all respects.

Jonathan Woolf

Power and Litton make a most sympathetic pairing, and can be proud of this disc in all respects.