Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Viola Sonatas Op. 120: No. 1 in F minor [21:22]; No. 2 in E-flat [19:23]
Karl WEIGL (1881-1949)
Viola Sonata in E-flat, Op. 32 [19:52]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Viola Sonata in F, Op. 11, No. 4 (first measure not recorded) [15:03]
Paul Doktor (viola)
Nadia Reisenberg (piano)
rec. January 1955 (Brahms); c.1952-53 (Weigl); 8 May 1963, live, Mannes College, (Hindemith)
ROMÉO RECORDS 7317 [76:01]
This disc serves as reminder of, and advocacy for, two artists; neither subservient to the other.
Paul Doktor (1919-1989) will be known to some as the violist in the Busch Quartet. Music-lovers of my generation may also recall his name from the CBS LP (61584) of one of Walton's most problematic works, the Viola Concerto. This was the first recording of the 1961 version of the Concerto. The orchestra was the LPO conducted by the young Edward Downes. Although seen as in competition with another ex-pat, William Primrose, Doktor became a major figure when he moved to the USA, recording Piston’s Viola Concerto and premiering the Quincy Porter Concerto.
Doktor's deliberate and husky-grained viola serves as his signature. It's far from pasty-faced and matches well the warm and flowing readings accorded to the two Brahms works. The gracious playing of Doktor and Reisenberg radiates outwards in the first of the two sonatas. The Andante of No. 1 has a Bach-like serenity. The Second Sonata adopts a vulnerable Kreislerian smile but here Reisenberg finds the sort of craggy drama encountered in the First Piano Concerto. Doktor assumes a winning lilt for the Allegro appassionato.
As for the Karl Weigl Sonata there have been at least two other recordings. I have heard the one by Garth Knox issued by the Karl Weigl Foundation. Weigl, another ex-pat has been making a snail's-pace re-emergence. Part of this has been down to Bis with the last two symphonies (review review). Weigl's six symphonies are as follows: 1, 1908; 2, 1922; 3, 1931; 4, 1936; 5, 1945; 6, 1947. His cause will also have been helped by two more recent discs from Capriccio: one of the concertos and the other of a selection of lieder. Weigl's circle of champions included the violinist Sidney Harth (1925-2011) whose private recording of the Weigl Violin Concerto with Musica Aeterna conducted by Frederic Waldman (1903-1955), kept Weigl's name alive for many years. In the case of the Viola Sonata Weigl wrote two subdued and even fearful movements. These frame an Allegretto ma non troppo, clearly determined to clear away the cobwebs and attain the sunshine. The final Allegro is sober yet restlessly energetic. The tone of Doktor's viola, running true to form, is not fleshy and that effect is underscored by the age of the recording.
The short Hindemith Sonata, as befits a composer who was a violist and who premiered the Walton concerto in its original form, is compact and entertaining. It lets in the lighter emotions after the Brahms and Weigl. There's even some most surprising Hollywood 'star-shine' at 12:00. The ear soon adjusts to the recorded sound which simulates a high vantage point looking down on the performers. There's applause at the close.
Trivial maybe, but it's a shame that the spine of the disc case - the bit that most music-lovers are likely to see on their shelves - jarringly miscalls two of the composers as "Brahams" and "Weigel".
The 18-page note is a de luxe piece of work, done to a most pleasing and professional standard, as is the gallery of photographs. These have been chosen with every sign of affection and good judgement. Robert Sherman, Reisenberg's son, is the author. Some impression of the scale and reach of the Reisenberg Archive, including many reels and phonographs, can be gained by looking at two sites.
The transfers have been made to good effect by Seth B Winner in June and July 2015. Hum has been removed, as have dropouts and groove noises, while scratches, ticks and pops have been removed or attenuated.
This is a most agreeable listening experience unless you kick against 1950s LP sound and must have a closer approach to modern audio perfection.