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Lady Viola
Lillian FUCHS (1902-1995)
Sonata Pastorale for Viola Solo (1956) [10:52]
Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b.1954)
Gila Rome. Meditation for Viola Solo (1980) [6:19]
Rebecca CLARKE (1902-1995)
Passacaglia on an Old English Tune for Viola and Piano (1941) [5:19]
Morpheus for Viola and Piano (1917) [7:09]
Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for Viola and Clarinet (1941) [14:51]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1979)
Polish Capriccio for Violin (Viola) Solo (1949) [2:40]
Sláva VORLOVÁ (1894-1973)
Fantasia on a 15th Century Folk Song, Op. 33 for Viola Solo (1953) [5:40]
Maria Theresia von PARADIS (1759-1824)
Sicilienne for Viola and Piano [2:56]
Kristina Fialová (viola), Jitka Čechová (piano), Anna Paulová (clarinet)
rec. March 2021, St Laurentius Church, Prague
ARCODIVA UP0236 [56:14]

Viola recitals increasingly include the works of Rebecca Clarke and this one – with its all-female composer list - is no exception, even though it doesn’t include her Sonata. In fact, the only sonata is the Sonata Pastorale for solo viola by Lilian Fuchs, herself - like Clarke – a most eminent violist (though not, as per the notes, the soloist who ‘emancipated [the] viola as a solo instrument’; Tertis? Primrose?). Czech violist Kristina Fialová takes this 1956 work lithely, and the result is that much more incisive than a competing performance on Naxos (8.557932-3) given by Jeanne Mallow. Fialová is as able an exponent of its fantasia-like elements as she is of its Shostakovich-haunted paragraphs. The dark foreboding, in fact, sometimes threatens to make a mockery of the sonata’s title.

This is not the first time that ArcoDiva has recorded Sylvie Bodorová’s Gila Rome; Meditation for viola solo (see review). Both Jitka Hosprová on that 2001 disc and Kristina Fialová take it in around six minutes, though the score’s recommendation, and presumably the composer’s own, is five. No matter, the music’s interior qualities and its folkloric vitality emerge excellently balanced. The three Clarke works form a kind of programming spine in this new release. The Passacaglia on an Old English Tune is played with noble eloquence and fine tone, whilst Morpheus is a gauzier, impressionist piece. It’s to her great advantage that the violist has as her accompanist Jitka Čechová, pianist of the Smetana Piano Trio and a truly great chamber performer, whose playing of this piece is simply beautiful. The final Clarke work is the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for Viola and Clarinet, where she is joined by Anna Paulová. They take sensible tempi throughout – this is a work that has encouraged some excessive speed from at least one British ensemble – and play the work’s many contrasts with refined elegance.

Bacewiz’s brief Polish Capriccio was originally written for the violin, her own instrument, but survives the translation to viola, not least in the folk dance. There is a world premiere recording of the Fantasia on a 15th Century Folk Song, composed in 1953 by Sláva Vorlová. Her teacher in Prague had been Novák and despite a promising start she left composition for fifteen years, returning to it only in 1933. She wrote a Moravian-Slovakian Concerto for Viola and Orchestra – in title at least reminiscent of her teacher’s lovely Slovácko Suite – which I would very much like to hear. In the 1960s she absorbed elements of twelve-tone. She has quite an extensive work list and her music should be explored further on disc. Her Fantasia is a fine solo work, with a Nationalist element but with some gritty assertive passages to balance the contemplative ones. There’s a so-called bonus track of Maria Theresia von Paradis’ evergreen Sicilienne.

I like the programming and the performances are excellent throughout. I’m not quite so enamoured of the church acoustic which finds the players somewhat swimming around. Maybe it wasn’t possible to record in somewhere like the Domovina Studio but it would have been superior sonically. Nevertheless, that carp aside, this is a disc well worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf

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