Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Viola Sonata in F major Op.11 No.4 (1919) [17:35]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Lachrymae for viola and piano Op.48 (1950) [15:06]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Viola Sonata Op.147 (1976) [35:49]
Yuri Bashmet (viola)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. June 1985, live, Freiburg
ALTO ALC 1186 [68:34]

This classic recital was recorded nearly three decades ago. It was taped live in Freiburg in June 1985 and features Yuri Bashmet and Sviatoslav Richter in a recital of consistently illuminating insights into the music of Hindemith, Britten and Shostakovich.
 
Hindemithís Sonata in F major receives a glowingly lyric reading, itís opening Fantasie full of exultant feeling and richly phrased warmth. Hindemith constructs the variations of the final two movements with such surety that oneís ear is led along the musicís pathways with an unerring sense of direction. As a first class violist himself, he is careful to balance statuesque passages with more powerfully angular ones, to allow lyric elation to flourish with dynamic power in tow.  The longish finale, a movement of cumulative energy and power, offers a renewed summation of his variational art. The whole work is marvellously projected by Bashmet and Richter.
 
The central work in the recital is Brittenís Lachrymae. Richterís close association with the composer afforded him a deep understanding of Brittenís sound-world. Both he and Bashmet find a huge amount in the work, with each variation or Ďreflectioní being sculpted in the most intensely characterised way imaginable. Seldom does one hear this work vested with such colour and startlingly juxtaposed sonorities, each adding to the disquietingly cumulative, slow revelation of Dowlandís song. Iíve never heard it played with such personalised and emotive control as here. It bears some similarity with the Czech performance of 1979 by Josef Kodousek and Kveta NovotnŠ Ė who take an identical tempo Ė but itís altogether more viscerally shaped than that excellent performance.
 
Bashmet recorded the valedictory sonata of Shostakovich with his regular sonata partner Mikhail Muntyan some years after this live recital performance with Richter and that Red Seal disc is the better known, I suspect. Itís also a touch slower, though less revelatory perhaps in the excavation of the piano writing. Here, as in the case of the Britten, Richterís friendship with Shostakovich adds an added layer of significance, and he proves an astringent but supportive partner.
 
What remains slightly disappointing in this work and in the case of the Hindemith and Britten too, is the recorded sound quality. This affects the piano in particular, which is a bit harshly bright, and also rather distant balance-wise. If you are able to overlook this deficiency, then this recital is mightily impressive one.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
Allowing for the sonics this is mightily impressive.