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Viola and Organ
Karl Yngve SKÖLD (1899-1992)
Fantasi for viola and organ, Op. 12 (1919) [11:41]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Fantasia, in F major for viola and organ (1903) [9:25]
Poem, for viola, harp and organ, Op.27 (1912) [8:12]
Ernst Ludwig LEITNER (b.1943)
Sonata de chiesa (2015) [15:33]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Sonata de chiesa, for viola d’amore and organ (1938) [16:38]
Bénédicte Royer (viola, viola d’amore)
Bettina Leitner (organ)
Katharina Teufel-Lieli (harp)
rec. 2016, Stiftsbasilika, St Florian, Austria
GRAMOLA 99168 [61:35]

Music for the combination of viola and organ is not exactly plentiful, which makes Gramola’s disc so useful. Leaving aside, for one moment, the contemporary work by Ernst Ludwig Leitner, whose Sonata dates from 2015, the four other works performed here span the years 1903 to 1938; that’s to say from York Bowen’s Fantasia to Frank Martin’s magnificent Sonata de Chiesa, from which, incidentally, Leitner has taken the name for his own sonata. So, there are correspondences and matters of lineage to consider as well as the individual works themselves.

The Swedish composer Karl Yngve Sköld studied in Stockholm graduating with a degree in organ performance. In 1919, when he was twenty, he wrote this Fantasi, alternately grave, religiose, and profoundly romantic. Its solemn organ introduction sets the scene for subsequent developments which fall into expected slower and faster sections, though there is significantly more of the former than the latter. In England, York Bowen was in the vanguard of viola composition, almost wholly because of the influence of Lionel Tertis, with whom Bowen performed both pieces recorded here. The Fantasia would have benefitted enormously from the rich, burnished tone that Tertis elicited from his very large viola. Bénédicte Royer certainly evokes its profoundly Romanticist spirit, as she does the Poem, Op.27 where she’s joined again by organist Bettina Leitner and this time harpist Katharina Teufel-Lieli. There are clearly diaphanous elements at work here, despite the presence of the organ – which Bowen himself often played in performance with Tertis – but also a robust spine to the work which is inflected at brief moments by the dual influences of Wagner and Franck.

Frank Martin’s Sonata de chiesa, for viola d’amore and organ was composed in 1938 and incorporated modified elements of 12-tone within its tonal language. Unused to writing for the instruments, Martin focused his musical mind sufficiently to compose a work of real flair and reach, structurally sound, expressively sophisticated and deeply satisfying. It’s fitting that Royer has resisted the temptation to play merely the viola, preferring instead the designated viola d’amore. It was premiered by Gertrud Flügel and the man who commissioned the piece, organist Hans Bulmer. Its lighter scherzo moods as much as its very real folkloric paragraphs are played here with real perception.

Leitner’s sonata shares the same name as Martin’s and pretty much the same proportions though it conforms to a standard three-movement schema. It’s written for the viola. It balances urgency and reflection – the two sometimes comingling – and some of the doughtier writing, to be found in the finale, gradually resolves into a culminating dance that brings with it real vitality for the organ as well as the viola.

The inquisitive nature of the programming, complemented by fine advocacy from all three musicians, ensures the success of the disc. Additionally, all the works are apparently heard in world premiere recordings, which is another reason to sit up and lend an ear.

Jonathan Woolf


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