George Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Viola Concerto in G major [11:18]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Op.35, J79 (1809) [12:35]
Andreas BAKSA (1950-2016)
Viola Pannonica (2010) [28:01]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Romanze in F major, Op.85 (pub.1911) [8:19]
Herbert Kefer (viola)
Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra/Martin Kerschbaum
rec. June 2015, Montforthaus Feldkirch
NIMBUS NI5961 [60:13]

This was first released by Marmor Verlag in Vienna in 2015 but has now been picked up by Nimbus. Doubtless it will receive rather wider publicity. The violist is Austrian-born Herbert Kefer, who formed the Artis Quartet in 1980 and it’s with this group that he’s already made a number of discs for Nimbus.

There are four works and clearly the disc title is more than somewhat inflationary in suggesting they’re all concertos, as only two are. The classic Telemann is an invariable disc favourite. It receives a rather cool traversal here, Martin Kerschbaum ensuring that the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra phrases in a clipped fashion. Bowing is short, the feeling engendered rather impatient. One wouldn’t necessarily expect Jörg Faerber’s encouragement of rich string tone from his Württemberg forces for Ernst Wallfisch – much though I love it – but I’d have preferred rather more of what Richard Kapp gets for violist Paul Peabody or Neville Marriner for Stephen Shingles. This, by contrast, sounds like someone imposing baroque historical bowing mantras. The slow movement, too, is on the brisk and brittle side, and the whole thing sounds orchestrally non-committal. Kefer is similarly reserved.

The orchestral forces sound quite limited in number, but they manage to bring more of the corporate colour and personality to bear in the case of Weber’s rompy Andante and Rondo Ungarese, a bipartite work that benefits from the soloist’s clarity of articulation and crisp characterisation. Bruch’s Romanze is a lovely effusion, full of warmth and played with commensurate dedication – but not over-effusively, however.

Both soloist and conductor premiered the late Andreas Baksa’s Viola Pannonica in 2010. This three-movement work is effectively the centrepiece of the programme and is a ripely evocative, consonant piece, packed full of piquant evocations of the old Roman province of Pannonia – which happened to have embraced an intermingling of peoples and cultures, from Germans and Hungarians to Croats and gypsies. Unless I’m misreading things, the notes state that Baksa studied with Bartók though that can’t be right, as Baksa was born in 1950 (and died in 2016), but leaving that to one side one can say that he has written a collage-like concerto that embraces the musical life force of regions and cultures with almost glutinous affection. These include Hungarian themes, gypsy band evocations, intensely lyrical melancholy, an ironic Viennese waltz, viola harmonics for a Croatian song, a melange of musics and styles. Some of these episodes move seamlessly, as in a dream world, others very much more abruptly. To end there’s a czárdás, with earthy, good-humoured dissonances to keep things alive. This most diverting work is played with great spirit and fire – perhaps these qualities were reserved for the Baksa, as they could have also been employed in the Telemann.

This somewhat uneven production is nevertheless valuable for the Baksa. Some may well find its abrupt mosaic construction unsuccessful, but I think others will respond to its wholehearted and expansive cross-cultural esprit.

Jonathan Woolf

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