Much like its larger cousin the double bass, the viola has long struggled to establish itself as a solo instrument. While in the 20th and 21st centuries, many composers have come to bestow rightful respect upon the instrument with numerous solo, chamber, and concerto compositions, the same did not hold earlier in the instrument's history. To fill the gap, violists have necessarily taken to arranging and transcribing. The question of worthiness then turns to individual listeners. This BIS disc opens with an arrangement of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata for viola and string orchestra. In this instance, the curiosity lies not so much with the use of the viola -- which has much in common with the bygone arpeggione -- but the choice of string orchestra. Despite the quality of the transcription, much of the intimacy inherent in an instrumental duo seems to be lost here. Violist Maxim Rysanov's playing is technically polished, with a clean, warm sound. His interpretation leans decidedly toward the heavily romanticized but does not cross the line into distasteful. Second up is Rysanov's own transcription of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations. Here, the orchestral part remains untouched, and only changes to the register are made in the solo part. Some of the octave changes are a bit jarring, and sometimes send the viola high onto the A-string where its tone is somewhat less rich. The disc concludes with the only original work for viola, Max Bruch's Romance in F major. Not surprisingly, the viola sounds its most natural and comfortable in this work, playing to its strengths of tone and character.
Review by Mike D. Brownell
|'Arpeggione' Sonata in A minor, D 821|
|Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, for cello and orchestra|