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Charm viola NV6434
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Charm, Passion and Acrobatics: Music for Viola and Piano
Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht (1880-1965)
Nocturne for cello (or viola) and piano (1905)
Prélude et Saltarelle (1907)
Impromptu (1922)
Pierre Kunc (1865-1941)
Viola Sonata (1921)
Rapsodie for viola and piano (1939)
Ernest Chausson (1865-1899)
Piece for cello (or viola or violin) and piano, Op 39 (1897)
Misha Galaganov (viola)
John Owings (piano)
rec. 2018, PepsiCo Recital Hall, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA
NAVONA NV6434 [70]

This disc has an entertaining title and the cover photograph does indeed display a degree of acrobatics, though I certainly hope that Misha Galaganov wasn’t really doing dangerous things with his viola. The charm and passion lie with the repertoire, which is rather obscure and French, and that’s almost invariably a good thing.

Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht is, of course, known as a conductor and champion of Debussy but in his youth he was a good violinist and his father before him was a violist. The early Nocturne was composed in 1905 for cello or viola. It has an easy-going, salon charm, quite typical of its time and place, but the Prélude et Saltarelle, whilst still deft and light, shows an advance in ambition. 15 years passed before the Impromptu of 1922 and this is clearly a mature work though it’s as brief as its companions.

Pierre Kunc was principally known as an organist but recently access has been allowed to his scores and so two viola works have emerged. The first is a big Viola Sonata of 1921 or, to be correct, a sonata for ‘Viola Alta’, a five-string instrument that was played by Paul-Louis Neuberth for whom the work was written. It’s performed here on a standard viola though clearly its range is wide and it hearkens back to Franck in both phraseology and harmonies. Its opening takes a quite gruelling 15 minutes but it’s 15 minutes that manages to sustain interest. The scherzo is full of restless energy and Gallic drollery whilst the slow movement encodes a kind of dreamy Debussian intimacy. Things perk up for the finale, elegantly done but overextended. That’s true of the work as a whole. It tends to lack focus and at just over 35 minutes it could have done with some composer-led pruning. The other work by Kunc is the Rapsodie and it was his last published piece, dedicated to Maurice Vieux, the leading French violist of his generation. If anything this is a better piece than the sonata. It’s much more compressed at 11-minutes though it contains a series of sections, multi-movement style laced with gallantry, wit and festive charm. The lovingly warm slow section is a charmer and the Danses finale full of esprit.

The disc closes with Chausson’s Piece for cello and piano, though it can be performed optionally on either the viola or violin. It’s a malleable, expressive work, expressively dense and probingly introspective. Composed in 1897, only two years before Chausson’s death, it makes for a rewarding envoi and is finely played.

Both Galaganov and pianist John Owings play with sensitivity and thoughtful intimacy. Navona’s disc comes in a card with a single sheet that relates to the performances. The production may be cost-cutting, but the performances aren’t. Valuable.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: October 19, 2022

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