Nobuko Imai

Telemann: 12 Fantasies for viola solo

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Nobuko Imai is among a very few violists to make a career as an expert soloist on her instrument, often viewed rather dimly as the deeper voiced fiddle that comes in between the violin and cello, always a bridesmaid but never the bride. While the act of transcribing violin literature of the viola is not news -- much viola solo literature is borrowed from the violin or cello, anyway -- Imai's brilliant transcriptions of Georg Philipp Telemann's 12 Fantasies for viola is a strong and exciting entry indeed. In some quarters, Telemann's Fantasies are regarded as being of secondary interest to Johann Sebastian Bach's unaccompanied violin music, and this should not be the case, as they are not remotely the same. Telemann's Fantasies are short, compact suites of three or four movements all radically different from one another, yet these little bits flow effortlessly together to approximate the form of a fantasy. This set has been recorded several times, but is not performed with great frequency owing to the high level of difficulty involved in playing it. Imai has subtly transposed the keys of the original fantasies in order to facilitate the range of the viola, and the results are spectacular: the deeper voice of the viola seems to lend additional weight to these little masterworks, transforming them and making them sing in a manner seemingly more profound than is the norm. However, there is no doubting that the intense level of concentration and emotional investment coming from the performer/transcriber -- Imai -- is a significant factor in why these readings come off so well. Pan Classics' recording is fine, although one might wish the perspective were a tiny bit closer to the viola. Otherwise, this is a splendid effort that will no doubt be considered among the best of Nobuko Imai's many recordings.

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