Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione’ Sonata in A minor, D821 (1824) [23:50]
Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.33 (1876-77) [18:29]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Romance in F major, Op.85 (1911) [8:51]
Maxim Rysanov (viola)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Muhai Tang
rec. February 2010, Öbrero Concert Hall, Sweden
BIS BIS-SACD-1843 [52:18]

Maxim Rysanov has been on our radar for a while now, having had his own recital disc on Avie (see review) in a substantial Brahms programme and through appearances at the London Proms in 2009 and 2010. This unashamedly romantic programme opens with an ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata which is so restrained as to be almost self-effacing. Rysanov and the Swedish CO express the tenderness in this music in a performance which is refined to a fault, though for it to have much impact you do need to turn the volume up a bit higher than usual.

The addition of winds in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme adds a helpful dimension of crispness to the mood, though the greater intensity in the viola part perceived by Rysanov requires quite a lot of heavy breathing, which comes through where the accompaniment is at its most transparent in the Tema and later on. Rysanov’s playing is superb of course, and he flies through the most technically demanding of the variations with ease, the orchestra also turning on a dime in Tchaikovsky’s sparking orchestration. This work is of course originally for cello and orchestra, and in this recording the orchestral part is left unchanged, Maxim Rysanov making necessary alterations only to the solo part to make it playable on the viola. This does in fact work very well, and with no knowledge of the cello original it would be hard to claim this piece didn’t sound as if written expressly for the viola in this recording. Rysanov’s full tone and deep sonorities relate as much to the cello as they do to the violin, and while there are one or two places where the soloist might arguably have integrated a little more with the orchestra, with the trills in Variazione V for instance, I have no real complaints about this lovely performance. The opening of Variazione VI after the previous cadenza is magical, and the whole thing is packed with moments to relish.

Max Bruch’s Romance in F major is therefore the only piece appearing in its original form on this disc, and that explosion of ‘big tune’ within the first two minutes is like the release of a coiled spring. There are few enough places where the orchestra has a chance to fill the sonic picture in this programme, and they take their opportunities well in this piece, which again is given a marvellously warm and expressive performance.

As usual the BIS sound is gorgeous, the SACD effect warmly enveloping the listener. At barely over 52 minutes this programme begs for at least one more piece, and we could have done with something either for orchestra alone, or something to challenge the emotions in a slightly different way to the collection of works here. If you like your music sweet and romantic this will be the last spoonful of sugar in your must indulgent cup of tea. Far from having the qualities of “unique acerbity, compact, somewhat hoarse, with an aftertaste of wood, earth and tannic acid” which György Ligeti heard in the sound of the viola; Maxim Rysanov brings out the warmest of lyrical voices from the instrument. His sound is a smooth and refined distillation, projecting the expression of the music without drawing attention to the instrument as anything unusual. This might be entirely appropriate for this kind of repertoire, but other than the heavy breathing there is at no stage any sense of suffering, either artistic or human.

Dominy Clements

The last spoonful of sugar in your most indulgent cup of tea.