Barbara Buntrock / Daniel Heide

1919: Viola Sonatas by Clarke, Hindemith, Bloch

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The three works on this fine recital by German violist Barbara Buntrock were all, as promised, composed in 1919. Two of them have a further link: they were entries in a contest sponsored by the American heiress and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Ernest Bloch's Suite for viola & piano and Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for viola & piano tied for first place, but the prize was given to Bloch under circumstances that remain under dispute; playing at least a partial role was the fact that the judges did not believe the work could have been composed by a woman. Clarke is a sorely underrated figure, and the album is worth the price for her sonata alone: she had clearly absorbed the intricate late chamber style of Debussy, but the work has an emotional forthrightness tying it to the composer's native Britain. Hindemith's Viola Sonata, Op. 11/4, is also a sparsely performed piece, even though it was one of the composer's own favorites; he wrote it for himself to perform, and did so frequently. Harmonically it fits the extended tonalities that were to occupy him for the rest of his career, but the mood of cool counterpoint so characteristic of the composer is missing. Instead it is a turbulent work that, in the opinion of annotator Peter Rümenapp, reflects the turbulent mood of Germany after World War I, with socialist and incipient fascist forces fighting in the streets. Be that as it may, it is an unusually expansive and passionate work in which the viola is stretched to its limit. This is not a problem for Buntrock and pianist Daniel Heide, who also bring the folkish or Jewish finale of the Bloch sonata its proper rousing stomp. With fine studio sound from Deutschlandradio, this is a well-chosen and expertly performed program that highlights an interesting historical episode.

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