Alessandro ROLLA (1757-1841)
Viola Sonata in E flat, op.3 no.1 [10:33]
Viola Sonata in D minor, op.3 no.2 [7:56]
Viola Sonata in C [14:07]
Duetto in A for violin and viola, op.18 no.1 [15:36]
Esercizio no.1 in F, for solo viola [3:36]
Esercizio no.2 in E flat, for solo viola [5:09]
Esercizio and Arpeggio in G, for solo viola [4:49]
Jennifer Stumm (viola)
Connie Shih (piano)
Liza Ferschtman (violin)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, England, 7-9 March 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.572010 [62:02]

This is another disc in Naxos's longstanding, occasional and hybrid Laureate Series. Itís the home for young soloists who have won some music competition or other. Naxos, incongruously give prominence on the cover to the artist - big lettering and a photo - over any featured composer. In this case the soloist is American violist Jennifer Stumm and the composer who must give way is the Italian Alessandro Rolla.

Unsurprisingly, Rolla was conservative in his musical inclinations. Though he outlived fellow violin-viola virtuoso NicolÚ Paganini, Rolla was born a quarter of a century earlier, only a year after Mozart. He wrote a large amount of instrumental music - in fact, there is no record of any vocal music by him. Most of his corpus is chamber music, much of it for violin, viola or both together.

Rolla wrote five short pieces for solo viola, the three Esercizi ('Exercises') featured here, plus two Intonazioni - could Naxos not have added these to the otherwise rather ungenerous timing? Rolla wrote these Esercizi for his students. The F major and E flat pieces are both lyrical, slightly wistful Andantes, very alike in feel, though the longer latter has a short energetic section in the middle. The piece in G, with the extended title Esercizio e Arpeggio, contains a lot more double-stopping and more alternation of faster and slower sections. Otherwise it is similar to the previous two, both in the immediate attractiveness of the rich sonorities teased from the instrument by Stumm and in Rolla's almost effortless invention.

The Duetto in A is the first of three published as Rolla's op.18 around 1835. Duos were clearly Rolla's favourite medium - he wrote more than 250 altogether, mainly for two violins, two violas or, as here, for one of each. It is fair to say that the violin gets a little more of the action here, apart from the final movement, where the viola often leads. The Duetto is in some ways more conservative than Mozart's duos K.423 and K.424, which were published fifty years earlier. Such facts should be of little importance to the listener in search of appealing, superbly crafted music - which is exactly what this is.

Published around 1804, the two Sonatas, op.3 were written by Rolla in the old-fashioned format of viola and basso, although he did eventually write several sonatas with piano. The piano versions played here were realised by Italian arranger Franco Tamponi, who died at the end of 2010. The first Sonata is classically Classical in its three movements, Allegro-Lento-Allegro, and its emphasis on melody, simplicity and proportion. The second Sonata is in a slightly shadier minor key but is otherwise similar, though lacking a slow movement. Given that the piano parts are transcriptions of Rolla's bass originals, the piano's role is supportive rather than equal. The viola writing, though appropriately restrained, is far from uninteresting. Jennifer Stumm plays the Sonatas with sunlit zest.

The Sonata in C is a later work, thought to have been written in the following decade, and unpublished in Rolla's lifetime. Again this piece was written for viola and bass. The version on this disc uses Tamponi's arrangement for piano. By this time Rolla was professor of both violin and viola at the new Milan Conservatory, as well as conductor at La Scala, where he gave performances of both operas and instrumental music. In the last two movements, Romance and Prestissimo, the influence of operatic structure and embellishments are apparent, but the Sonata is another optimistic, if not exactly forward-looking work promising handsome melodic reward to listeners.

Jennifer Stumm gives a fine performance on this disc, as befits her highlighted status, but so do Liza Ferschtman in the Duetto, and Connie Shih in the Sonatas. Sound quality at Potton Hall is of the highest quality; if only all chamber music could be recorded there!

Byzantion

Handsome melodic reward from fine performances.