Romantic Showpieces for Viola

En-Chi Anna Ho / Mark Neumann

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Romantic Showpieces for Viola Review

by Mike D. Brownell

For more than two centuries, the viola has struggled to find a role as a solo instrument alongside the violin and the cello. The bulk of the literature written expressly for the viola didn't come into existence until the 20th century. There still exists, however, a good deal of literature from the preceding century that is little known to listeners and is rarely heard on disc or stage. Violist Mark Neumann, along with pianist En-Chi Anna Ho, has set out to rectify this situation on this ACA album. Rather than the norm of taking works from the violin repertoire and transcribing them for the viola (often with highly unsatisfactory results), Neumann chooses for his program a set of short, Romantic-era showpieces specifically written for his instrument. That so many such pieces exist -- and by composers virtually all listeners will recognize by name -- is somewhat of a surprise. The most striking aspect of this set of seven pieces is how perfectly each of them plays to the strengths of the viola and shies away from its weaknesses. The result is a wonderfully varied, engaging, and entirely convincing program of Romantic music that is neither fluffy nor trite. Neumann's playing accentuates the positive traits in the scores. Technically quite solid, Neumann also plays with robust intensity and conviction.

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