Nobuko Imai / Gabor Takács-Nagy

Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith: Viola Concertos; Schönberg: Verklärte Nacht

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This disc is an almost unqualified success. It's wonderful to have Nobuko Imai, one of the world's greatest living violists, record for the first time two of the 20th century central works for her instrument, Bartók's Viola Concerto and Hindemith's Der Schwanendreher, his viola concerto based on old folk songs. With her flawless technique, impeccable intonation, and above all, her calmly confident, yet fully emotionally committed interpretations, Imai's performances are in the same class as the vast majority of her other recorded performances, that is to say, first class, and well worth hearing by anyone who treasures the repertoire. The accompaniments by Switzerland's Orchestre de la Haute École de Musique de Genève, a student orchestra under the steady hand of Hungary's Gábor Takács-Nagy (the former leader of the great Takács Quartet) are exceptional, because they are so polished and enthusiastic. If the disc has a drawback, it is the inclusion of the Swiss orchestra and the Hungarian conductor's supremely sensual but sadly weak-willed performance of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. Their sensuality is wholly appropriate. Few works are as overtly sexual as Verklärte Nacht, but this performance is far too passive; one wants to be seduced by the music, not bored by it, and unfortunately, Takács-Nagy's tempos drag interminably. Still, the superb performances of the two main works here will make this disc mandatory listening for viola fanciers. Pan Classics' digital sound is remarkably clear and clean, as well as amazingly vivid.

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