Ashan Pillai

Schubert: Arpeggione; Schwanengesang; Kalliwoda: Nocturnes

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This Oehms Classics disc by violist Ashan Pillai, who is British by way of Sri Lanka, might seem to some as an example of left-field programming at its most extreme -- Schubert's beloved Arpeggione Sonata and five viola transcriptions of his familiar Schwanengesang combined with Six Nocturnes by totally unfamiliar Bohemian Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda. In reality, the combination of the two into the same program is not that far off the mark; Kalliwoda was one of the most distinguished of Schubert's contemporaries and far better known during his lifetime than Schubert in his. Whereas Kalliwoda's numerous symphonies and overtures are among the most criminally overlooked major works of the early nineteenth centuries, these Six Nocturnes Op. 186 do not show them at his best. Not very nocturnal in mood, they aren't very serious as compositions and betray more than just a whiff of the salon with their bathetic longuers and pretensions toward silent movie-style drama.

Of the pieces here, the best are Pillai's own transcriptions of the Schwanengesang. His viola playing is full-throated and sufficiently vocal to project these lieder as instrumental pieces and not to do damage to Schubert through depriving him of his texts. On the other hand, there does seem to be a problem with pacing throughout the disc -- adagios are not very slow and allegrettos are presented as on the lukewarm side of fast. Michael Endres' accompaniments are crisp and dutiful; Pillai certainly has a tone on the viola that is warm, rich, and sometimes beauteous, but there seems to be little in this recording overall that lifts it out of the routine -- it is pleasant sounding, yet a little dull.

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