The Virtuoso Viola

Roger Chase / Michiko Otaki

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The Virtuoso Viola Review

by James Manheim

This is one of just a few collections of virtuoso viola music, but most of the great violinists also played the viola, and the album resurrects some little-known gems. Except for the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fritz Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro, all the music here was originally composed for the viola, even Arthur Benjamin's Le tombeau de Ravel, which is better known in a version for clarinet. Despite the connections with violin music, the viola has its own idiom, emphasizing melody and tone more than finger acrobatics; the only two works really in the athletic mode are the Sonata per la gran viola by Paganini himself and the Capriccio for solo viola of Henri Vieuxtemps. More typical is the lovely Pièce de concert of Enescu, where the player must maintain a suavity of tone through passages involving an octatonic scale and other melodic novelties. The program introduces a worthwhile work from a forgotten composer, the Belgian pedagogue Joseph Jongen, whose Introduction et Danse, Op. 102, is recital-ready. The performances by British-born violist Roger Chase and pianist Michiko Otaki, who also wrote the booklet notes (in English, with each covering separate pieces rather than collaborating), are competent although rather restrained for the likes of Paganini. The sound environment of Britain's engineer-beloved Potton Hall is superb.

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