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Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)
Complete Music for Viola and Piano
Viola Sonata No.1 in B flat major, Op.161 (1940) [16:40]
Viola Sonata No.2 in F major, Op.172 (1943) (arr. Sonata from clarinet and piano by Elena Artamonova) [14:12]
Early Morning, Op.126b (1930) (arr. Sabine Stegmüller) [14:44]
In modo antico: Suite, Op.81 (1918) (arr. Artamonova) [16:26]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Romance (L’âme évaporée) (1885) [1:59]; Beau Soir (1891) [2:21] (transcribed Grechaninov)
Elena Artamonova (viola)
Nicholas Walker (piano)
rec. June 2013, Potton Hall, Suffolk
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0234 [67:21]

Primarily known for his orchestral music, Grechaninov also wrote a sheaf of chamber works. That for viola has remained obscure. His Op.161 Sonata for viola (or clarinet) is unpublished which accounts for much of its obscurity and this is its first recording. Its premiere was given by Elena Artamonova and Nicholas Walker in London only in 2013, the same year it was recorded. The premiere was given in December but the recording was made earlier in June. Couched in sonata-form, and written between 1935 and 1940 the work proves amiable, songful and engaging. There is a high quotient of charm in Grechaninov’s chamber music, and that is an element that figures prominently here. His penchant for vocal composition ensures that the melodies are at all times winningly warm, not least in the lyric effusions of the central Canzona movement. I hear hints of Spanish music in the finale though there is certainly a strain of Russian folklore buzzing merrily throughout, and some passages sound almost like Dvořák.
 
The Second Sonata was written in 1943 and is actually a clarinet sonata, whose dedicatee was the great Simeon Bellison. The arrangement for viola is the work of Elena Artamonova, who has taken her cue from the earlier viola sonata and has dealt persuasively with questions of articulation and register. The work sounds convincing in its new form. Once more there’s a fine balance between the instruments, and an uncluttered and jovial quality. Toccata has gone to the trouble of separately tracking each of the variations that mark the theme and variations, with coda, of the second movement of this bipartite work. Here Slavic folk affiliations are to the fore, and a vigorous and engaging variation for solo piano too. I was most taken by the third variation where the piano’s gruff enquiries are met by a pliant viola response. There’s a viola cadenza before the spirited and exciting toccata-like coda.
 
Early Morning is a cycle of ten pieces written in France in 1930 for cello (or violin) and piano. It has been arranged for viola by Sabine Stegmüller and this is its first recording in this guise. Primarily this is a work of instruction for children, adept and engaging teaching material with nice descriptive titles à la Schumann, two highlights of which are the pensive In the Twilight and the deliciously deft Burlesque. In modo antico is a suite written back in 1918 for violin and orchestra or piano. This arrangement is Artamonova’s. It opens with a somewhat showy cadenza but continues in a romantic vein rather more than anything too self-consciously modo antico, though the movements sport titles such as Sarabande, Gavotte – played with deliciously zesty lift here – and Jig. Finally there are the two Grechaninov transcriptions of songs by Debussy, first published in 1946, which would make excellent recital pieces. Once again these are premiere recordings.
 
These richly lyrical works, all pretty much unknown, receive highly persuasive and stylistically apt performances from Artamonova – who writes the excellent booklet notes – and Nicholas Walker. Well worth getting to know, in fact.
 
Jonathan Woolf