Dutton's The Tertis Tradition celebrates the legacy of an instrumentalist who was to the viola what Pablo Casals was to the cello; Lionel Tertis moved the viola out of its usual context as an accompaniment instrument and helped establish it as a viable solo voice. Among Tertis' co-conspirators in this crusade was an emergent generation of British composers also attempting to find footing in a musical world increasingly stacked against them, the taste of the British public long being out of sympathy with international trends. The strongly melodic grounding of these composers naturally also made them an uncomfortable fit for the twentieth century, and yet all but York Bowen managed to find a place in that temporal continuum. With the exception of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lionel Tertis managed to connect with these now prominent names and got them to contribute to the viola literature early in their careers. The Tertis Tradition features violist Roger Chase with pianist Michiko Otaki; Chase has an especial connection with Lionel Tertis, not only as Tertis' former student, but also as the player who inherited Tertis' prized Montagnana viola.
Arnold Bax's early Concert Piece (1904) is particularly striking as it reveals that from the standpoint of its year that Bax -- along with Cyril Scott -- was at the cutting edge in British music; it is surprising through its toughness and sense of rebellion, attributes that most certainly do not characterize Bax's later output. In this piece, pianist Michiko Otaki proves invaluable as the piano part in this piece is a "bear," but she manages to keep it tame enough so as not to compete too much with the soloist. While York Bowen established himself as a piano pictorialist and, ergo, destined his work -- like that of Cyril Scott -- to damnable obscurity, these viola pieces have always enjoyed some currency and have been recorded several times. The advantage of this recording is the context provided, plus the magnificent performance of these Bowen pieces, which are a tad more through-composed and ambitious than his typical piano music. The Rubbra Mediations on a Byzantine Hymn "O Quando in Cruce" (1962) is generally presented in its viola duet version, but this is the solo version and affords the opportunity for Roger Chase to shine. It is a haunting, spiritual piece with a strong monastic vibe and takes full advantage of the full-throated melodic potential of the viola. Arthur Bliss' Sonata for Viola & Piano (1933) catches Bliss during an interesting transitory period, beginning in his French-influenced mode -- which more typifies his work of the 1920s -- and ending with the terser, more obviously modernistic idiom found in his famous film score for Things to Come. Both Chase and Otaki shine in this piece, particularly in the blistering "Furiant" movement and its achingly tragic Coda, a stern and bracing conclusion to the disc as a whole. Vaughan Williams' Romance for Viola & Piano likely dates from the 1930s and was written for Tertis, but this most intensely self-critical of composers never allowed it out of his desk while he lived. One wonders what Vaughan Williams thought was wrong with it, as it is an organic, emotionally vibrant, and beautiful piece that has since become one of his most recorded chamber works; it provides a highly satisfying entrée to the program here.
While Dutton's The Tertis Tradition is obviously required listening if one is a violist, its high musicianship, terrific recording quality, and dramatic content should be able to reach out to listeners normally attracted to solo violin recitals, and to serve as a viable alternative to them.