RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1917) (arr. Martin Outtram) [24:17]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Reflection (1930) [4:05]
Portrait No 2 ‘EBB’ (1930) (arr. Outram) [3:55]
Lachrymae op. 48 Reflections on a song of Dowland (1950) [13:25]
There is a willow grows aslant a brook (1927) (arr. Britten, 1932) [8:05]
Pensiero (1905 rev. 1907/8) [3:59]
Allegro Appassionato (1907/08) [2:29]
Elegy (1930) [6:41]
Martin Outram (viola)
Julian Rolton (piano)
rec. 16-18 November 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6253 [67:29]
This duo’s release The Scottish Viola on NI 6180 was warmly received by my colleague Jonathan Woolf (see review), whose praise is quoted on the back of this release, Reflections. Martin Outram and the Maggini Quartet have also regularly appeared in fine recordings for Naxos. This recording oozes quality from the outset, and British music fans and keen viola supporters are in for a huge treat.
Frank Bridge’s Sonata for Cello and Piano has been given a new colour in this arrangement for viola by soloist Martin Outram, and this version very much complements the original. The lyrical qualities of the cello are kept, and the depths of sonority are approached to a degree, but the viola’s own special qualities are to my mind a more determining factor. Does it sound as if the music might have been written for this medium? Yes, I feel it does, and the arrangement has to be considered a success as a result. This is a piece written while Bridge was “in utter despair over the futility of war”, and the nocturnal qualities of the Adagio ma non troppo middle movement derive from the composer’s sleepless wanderings through London’s streets in the early hours of the morning. The musicians capture this atmosphere, and the passions and complexities of the first movement and yearnings of the finale are presented with musical sensitivity, refinement and just the right balance of intensity and tasteful restraint.
Representing a younger generation, Benjamin Britten’s Reflection reveals his interest in Schönberg in a piece which doesn’t relinquish tonality, but does blur the edges considerably. Still packed with thematic clarity and bags of subtle atmosphere, this goes well with the inward-looking Portrait No. 2 ‘E.B.B.’, a self-portrait in music full of ambiguities - never becoming really playful, but still always moving towards some kind of good humour tinged with constant questioning. From the same period, the final track Elegy is another expression of mixed feelings, its “brooding quality and eruptive climax” written as the composer left unhappy times at Gresham’s School in Norfolk but before commencing studies at the Royal College of Music. The Lachrymae Op. 48 appeared 20 years later, and is a substantial set of variations written for the great viola player William Primrose. This now appears more frequently in its later arrangement by the composer for viola and strings, but I like the Shostakovich-tinged piano/viola sound, and the work’s striking emotional range is potently expressed by the musicians on this excellent recording.
Bridge and Britten meet in the latter’s arrangement of There is a willow grows aslant a brook, a musical response to Queen Gertrude’s famous speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which she describes the death of Ophelia. This is a powerful masterpiece, and Britten’s transcription is remarkably effective. The booklet notes remind us that this was music to which Britten would return in his Fugue from the Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, and the commitment felt by the composer for his subject and the arranger for the score is reflected superbly in the repressed tensions expressed so well by the musicians on this recording. The beautiful Pensiero was published as part of the Lionel Tertis Viola Library, as was the lively and emphatic Allegro Appassionato.
Given a superb recording in the lovely Wyastone Concert Hall, this faultlessly delivered programme of tremendous music is by any standards a disc to treasure.
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