Ascent - Matthew Lipman and Henry Kramer. © 2018 Cedille Records

CD Spotlight

Sheer Musicianship

GEOFF PEARCE listens to music for viola,
played by Matthew Lipman

'... a delight for the listener and aficionados of the viola.'


This excellent CD, released on the Cedille Records label, is a delight for the listener and aficionados of the viola. It is a superb recording in every way, and has great accompanying programme notes.

The first work, Phantasy for Viola and Piano by York Bowen (1884-1961), is a real gem. Bowen is often referred to as the English Rachmaninov, and this work certainly reflects this, by inflection rather than any sort of imitation of style. This phantasy is a beautiful example of Bowen's beautiful lyrical style, and is basically three movements in one fifteen-minute-long work. Bowen could play the viola, and this certainly shows in the idiomatic writing of this marvellous rhapsodic work. I hope that there is a resurgence of interest in this fine composer. The performers capture every detail and nuance. They are very exciting to listen to, and their teamwork is inspirational.

Listen — York Bowen: Phantasy for Viola and Piano, Op 54
(track 1, 12:29-13:14) © 2018 Cedille Records :

Metamorfose, by Clarice Assad (born 1978), is a two-movement work, written as part of this recording project which was launched as a tribute to the violist's mother who had recently passed. The first movement, 'Crisálidas', compares the grieving process to the changes from a chrysalis into a butterfly. This is imaginative writing, and one can sense the loss, leading from perhaps anguish and pent up anger to a more expressive feeling of remembrance and acceptance.

Listen — Clarice Assad: Crisálidas (Metamorfose)
(track 2, 4:01-4:34) © 2018 Cedille Records :

The second movement 'Dança das Borboletas' (Dance of the butterfies) begins with a slow introduction that morphs into a gentle dance. Activity gradually builds and the music becomes livelier, but forever graceful. This music gradually becomes more exultant as it develops. The writing is beautifully assured and one can really sense that the composer understands Matthew Lipman and what he has been through, but it by no means wallows.

Robert Schumann's Märchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), Op 113, was written in 1851. Schumann does not leave any clues as to which fairytales this work represents. They are beautiful little pieces and were written in one of the few happy breaks during the composer's last years. There are four pieces, the first being a brooding work that highlights the viola's somewhat dark and husky side. The second is contrasting and full of life. To me it is a hunting or drinking song, and the changes of mood are beautifully encompassed.

Listen — Robert Schumann: Lebhaft (Märchenbilder)
(track 5, 2:29-3:12) © 2018 Cedille Records :

The third movement is restless, and one can imagine it as a stormy Lied. The last movement is much slower and melancholic but possesses great beauty too. It is full of quiet resignation.

I had not heard this work before, so was pleased to make its acquaintance.

The next track is Fuga libre for solo viola by Garth Knox (born 1956) - another composer I wasn't familiar with. Knox is a leading viola player, particularly in the realm of contemporary music. His work begins in a somewhat pseudo-Bachian style, then it gradually builds and moves away from this, as various more modern techniques and colouristic effects are added. We are certainly taken on a fascinating journey, but the result is very listenable.

Listen — Garth Knox: Fuga libre
(track 8, 3:09-3:48) © 2018 Cedille Records :

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his little two-minute Impromptu in 1931. This great piece is quite sorrowful until a little dance section ends the work.

The last work, Carmen Fantasie, is by composer Franz Waxman (1906-1967), much better known for his film music. Indeed this was used in the soundtrack to the movie Humoresque (1946). This is a well-known work, usually performed on the violin, but it works just as beautifully on the viola.

Listen — Franz Waxman: Carmen Fantasie
(track 10, 7:48-8:34) © 2018 Cedille Records :

It is a great work with which to end this fine disc and, like everything else here, one cannot help but be impressed by the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of these fine artists.

Copyright © 24 May 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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