This is by no means the first time that Cembal d’amour has celebrated the artistry of Emanuel Vardi (1915-2011). We have already had the Paganini Caprices (CD129), an album called ‘The Virtuoso Viola’ (CD134), and CD125 which captures his performances, with David Nadien and Jascha Silberstein, of Mozart’s Divertimento K563.
The focus of this latest disc shifts Vardi stage-centre in concerto, or concertante-like works recorded between 1943 and 1976 with a variety of accompanying orchestras and colleagues. The earliest performance is something of a coup, a 1943 broadcast of the Walton with the American Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joseph Stopka. Frederick Riddle’s recording was the first commercial set to be issued, pre-war, and William Primrose’s followed in 1946. I’m not aware of any broadcast survivor earlier than Vardi’s, though it would have been special had the BBC had the foresight to record, and preserve, one of Lionel Tertis’s broadcasts of a work he had famously originally turned down. Vardi performs with really incisive perception. At 28 he was in the first stages of his career, and his tone is expressive. He takes the central movement at an idiomatic lick, and his tone survives the small acetate crunches with which the finale begins. This is an important recording of real archival significance.
Odeon Partos’s Yizkor and Hindemith’s Trauermusik were recorded when Vardi was at his prime, in 1957. They were taped on the West Coast with the MGM String Orchestra directed by Izler Solomon. The Partos piece is about 11 minutes long, a passionate in memoriam of great immediacy. Antecedents, I suppose, would include Bloch and the very typically close-up recording allows one to concentrate on all aspects of Vardi’s timbral resources and outstanding musicianship. He remains full-toned throughout the instrument’s range, retaining full amplitude even in higher registers. Hindemith’s Trauermusik reprises these qualities, including the too-close sound spectrum.
Michael Colgrass’s sonically interesting Variations for four drums and viola was composed, and taped, in 1959. The composer (himself a percussionist) conducts. The variations provide a deal of contrast, exploited to the full by Vardi in both the more lyrical and intimate sections as well as the more combative, percussion-established ones. Vardi cores his tone, increasing intensity with great brilliance, and both composer and soloist seem to enjoy the ‘recitativo’ effect in the Andante agitato variation. For Tibor Serly’s compact two-movement Concerto Vardi forsakes his viola for the violin. He sounds fully authoritative, and the recording allows his pizzicati to ring out with clarion surety. The recording was made in Vienna and all concerned certainly catch the gawky angularity of Serly’s second movement Dance.
This is a fascinating trawl through Vardi’s recordings, both studio and off-air. There is nothing in the notes about the music, but you will be impressed by the programme.