One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,514 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider


paid for


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas

FOGHORN Classics

Mozart Brahms
Clarinet Quintets

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Plain text for smartphones & printers

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat



Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Suite in G minor Op.131d No.1 [13:04]
Suite in D major Op.131d No.2 [11:25]
Suite in E minor Op.131d No.3 [10:44]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-78)
Sonata-Song for solo viola [13:09]
Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Cadenza for solo viola [6:18]
Pierre RHODE (1774-1830)
Caprice No.7 [4:24]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Caprice in A minor Op.1 No.24 [5:52]
Sonata per la Grand’ Viola (and Orchestra) (transcribed for viola and guitar) [13:19]
Katarzyna Budnik-Gałązka (viola), Krzysztof Meisinger (guitar)
rec. Polish Radio Studio S-2, Warsaw, Poland, 2011 and 2012.
DUX 0932 [78:12]

The 'viola pomposa' was said to be J.S. Bach’s favourite instrument. It has always fascinated me as to why it should have come to be regarded as the butt of jokes. Turning to the internet I discovered that the origin seems to be down to a true story concerning the composer Francesco Geminiani who arrived in England in 1714. Apparently, according to Charles Burney, he had left Italy under a cloud following a disastrous time as leader of an orchestra in Naples where he was "so wild and unsteady ... that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion", and was demoted to playing the viola. It seems incredible that the viola should come in for such derision because of that. Why, one might reasonably ask, should it have been considered a demotion to be given a viola to play rather than a violin. As the booklet-note writer here suggests, the impression could easily be drawn that composers only choose to give the viola a primary role when they want to imbue their music with special depth. It is strange then that relatively few works do so in comparison with the violin or cello. It may be that composers didn’t want to overdo the ‘special depth’ a viola can bring to a work and therefore some — perhaps especially violinists — might have regarded it as a less important instrument. This disc is full of music that flies in the face of all this fustian nonsense to reveal ‘special depth’ in abundance.

The first three works on the disc are by Max Reger whose music I generally regard as dry. With all the disparaging things written and said about the viola it is interesting that these viola works have led me to a reappraisal of Reger. These three suites are anything but dry: they are warm, rich, well rounded and highly tuneful. What is also surprising is that they sound as if they come from a much earlier time than that in which they were written. They seem to have much more in common with the 18th century than the 19th century. There is something very reminiscent of the Bach cello suites about these suites and I see that writer and broadcaster James Jolly agrees: “... the Reger suites have the same purity of utterance and spareness as the Bach originals ...” These lovely works well and truly changed my opinion about Reger. Martin Anderson writing in CD Review in the 1990s said that while many characterise his music as “heavy, overscored, chromatically complex or some other how unpalatable” these suites “offer untrammelled delight from beginning to end”. I couldn’t agree more.

Another composer I have been reappraising is Khachaturian who was the subject of a recent set of programmes on the UK’s Radio 3’s Composer of the Week series. I was reminded during these five one hour long programmes what a highly skilled composer he was. His music is so thoroughly colourful that he was said to be the “Rubens of Russian music”. This Sonata-Song for solo viola shows that to be as true in his writing for a solo instrument as it is in his orchestral writing. It was Khachaturian’s very last work giving it added poignancy alongside its complex nature.

Krzysztof Penderecki is often regarded as a somewhat ‘avant-garde’ composer so it is interesting to hear his Cadenza immediately following Khachaturian’s work. It appears more accessible by comparison which only goes to prove that one should let the music do the talking. The ideas derive from his viola concerto and serve as an encouragement to seek that work out.

Pierre Rhode was a name that was unknown to me but the music is charming and would make a perfect encore bon-bon. Paganini’s famous Caprice is the penultimate offering and it is interesting to hear it on the viola with its darker tone making for a completely new experience. Paganini’s ego is well documented. It came as no surprise to learn that the final work on the disc, a transcription for the unusual combination of viola and guitar of a sonata for viola and orchestra Paganini composed because he felt that the recently completed Berlioz work Harold in Italy was another failed work for viola. He felt that the Berlioz work did not sufficiently showcase his prodigious talents. This despite the fact that it was Paganini who had asked Berlioz to write a work for him to play on his large Stradivari viola. He did not consider that there was enough for him to do in it and never played it. Coincidentally having begun this review yesterday I then heard the Berlioz’s on the radio. If I had been around in 1834 I would have advised Paganini to stick to performing because, pleasant though this work is, it cannot be compared to Harold in Italy even though that work is really more of a symphony with viola than a viola concerto.

This disc is another nail in the coffin of viola jokes and sniffy opinions of the instrument. It contains some really sumptuous writing for viola and the warmth which emanates from the music is quite palpable. As for the soloist I quote the following from the website

"In 2013, Budnik-Gałązka received a nomination for the annual Polityka Passports (Paszporty Polityki) Award, given out annually to the most promising faces of Polish culture in a number of disciplines. The jury justified their choice: “The viola is an object of numerous stereotypical and pretentious jokes, which derive from the fact that it is a common practice at Polish music schools to send those who are not coping with violin to a viola class, ignoring the fact that playing on the latter is actually more difficult - hence the low level of many of our viola players. Katarzyna Budnik-Gałązka proves that this can – and should – be completely different.”

I absolutely concur with that sentiment as she brings a supremely rounded velvet tone to everything she plays. I hope we’ll hear more from her; how about a recording of Harold in Italy.
Steve Arloff