British Music for Viola and Orchestra

Helen Callus

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British Music for Viola and Orchestra Review

by James Manheim

The British-American violist Helen Callus has an intensely lyrical tone that instantly grabs your attention in the excerpts from the 1934 Suite for viola and orchestra of Vaughan Williams, a pastoral work in the truest sense. One of the few questionable moves here is that the work is presented in excerpted form, although there isn't room for the whole thing on a single CD, and it's hard to make a case for omitting any of the other works. The mood deepens and darkens in Herbert Howells' Elegy for viola, string quartet, and string orchestra, Op. 15, written in memory of a young musician killed in action in World War I. Callus applies the same lyrical approach to the Walton Viola Concerto in A minor, which comes in zippier renderings, but the consistent passion here is impressive. And it effectively sets up the less common Viola Concerto in C minor, Op. 25, of York Bowen, composed in 1907. This is a neglected gem of the viola repertory, a broad, Brahmsian work with splendid melodies. Sample the slow movement of Andante cantabile or the finale with a new cadenza by Callus herself. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Marc Taddei provide idiomatic support in their home base of Wellington, and in all, if the idea of a program of British viola music doesn't fill you with excitement, listen and reconsider.

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