Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919) [21:54]
Henri VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Viola Sonata in B flat major Op.36 (1863) [22:29]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Viola Sonata in E flat major Op.120/2 (1891) [20:42]
Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Kirill Gerstein (piano)
rec. March-April 2010, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal

The programming of this disc reminds me of Barbara Westphal and Jeffrey Swann’s Bridge disc [9109] which included both the Rebecca Clarke and Vieuxtemps but also included some Enescu, whereas the Zimmermann-Gerstein duo offers Brahms’s sonata in E flat major Op.120/2.

Clarke’s sonata is now deservedly quite popular and there are a number of recordings from which to choose with a variety of couplings. Zimmerman and Gerstein don’t catch the opening folkloric inflexions with quite as much immediacy as some duos but they do move from moments of agitated intensity to ruminative reflection with commendable surety. Zimmermann’s tone is finely equalized as ever, maintaining body at both ends of the range, and the ensemble is well nigh rock tight. The witty badinage of the central movement works well at this chosen tempo, with the duo avoiding the motoric speed that impelled Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard, who are lightning fast here [Hyperion CDH55085]. In the finale they’re a touch brisker than some duos, but that’s possibly because they prefer not to make too big an adjustment between the introductory Adagio section and the ensuing Allegro. Zimmerman’s tone is richer than Westphal’s, who also plays extremely well. Except for the finale where they’re quicker, the proportions of this new performance remind one of the Garfield Jackson/Martin Roscoe traversal on ASV CDDCA 932, coupled with Clarke’s Trio, and Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet. Helen Callus and Robert McDonald have also recorded it for ASV [1130] in a mixed recital and they’re slower than Zimmermann and Gerstein but not as slow as Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman, whose first movement unfortunately rules them out of contention [Naxos 8.557934].

As noted, Zimmermann and Westphal both turn to the Vieuxtemps sonata and its expansive and expressive profile. Both offer highly laudable performances though the former has a wider range of tone colours and a greater sense of panache. That said Westphal, a no-nonsense player, ensures that the central Barcarolle laps that bit more incisively and insistently, whilst Zimmermann prefers a warmer tone but a slower, gentler tempo. The Brahms sonata is so much a staple that comparisons are numerous. I will note however that whilst she’s slower in the outer movements she’s even quicker than the young William Primrose (with Gerald Moore) in the central Allegro appassionato; quite some feat and very exciting. In fact this is a highly communicative and agile performance played with great commitment and authority.

The recording is very well judged, the notes good but printed in an unhelpful colour scheme (the track listing is unreadable unless you’re standing under a 100 watt bulb).

Jonathan Woolf

Highly communicative and agile … played with great commitment and authority.