Berlioz: Harold in Italy; Paganini: Sonata per la Gran Viola e Orchestra

David Aaron Carpenter / Vladimir Ashkenazy

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Berlioz: Harold in Italy; Paganini: Sonata per la Gran Viola e Orchestra Review

by Blair Sanderson

For this all-Romantic CD, Vladimir Ashkenazy presents works by two figures who were friends and colleagues, as well as musical ground breakers, Hector Berlioz and Niccolò Paganini. The vivacious Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict opens the program with a fine display piece for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, though the ensemble is soon joined by violist David Aaron Carpenter for the two main works, Berlioz's Harold in Italy and Paganini's Sonata for large viola and orchestra. Harold in Italy is a symphony loosely based on Lord Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," with an obbligato viola part that was intended for Paganini. However, he declined to play it because it did not give him enough virtuosic material. As a result, he composed the sonata, a quasi-concerto, to demonstrate his exceptional abilities on the viola. This album offers exceptional renditions of both works, because Carpenter plays with great skill and abundant energy, and he raises the modest viola to violinistic presence and power. Ashkenazy brings the orchestra to a high level of excitement, which is necessary to keep Harold in Italy from flagging in its slow sections. The sonata is filled with intensity and drama, and Carpenter and Ashkenazy deliver a fun performance that concludes the album in a jovial mood. Ondine's sound is bright, clear, and full, so the recording is thoroughly enjoyable.

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