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1.4.09

Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Various Viola Concertos

available at Amazon
Telemann, Hoffmeister, J.C.Bach, Hindemith, Viola Concertos,
Hartmut Rohde / Lithuanian CO Vilnius / Georg Mais
ARTE NOVA 675020

Although some of the most famous composers played—and for all we know also liked—the viola, the concerto literature for the alto sibling of the violin is minute… and half of that slight. The lack of outstanding works might be the most enduring and cruel of viola jokes. One of the few exceptions I know is Schnittke’s Concerto for Viola which can be a terrific work that has also been treated kindly by the record industry. The concertos present on this re-release from Arte Nova, though, make my point—albeit very pleasantly, rather than dispel it.

Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto in G is tellingly the most substantial work present. It’s gorgeous and very simple. Baroque easy listening, if you will, and perfect for commercial radio stations during drive time. The Johann Christian Bach concerto in C-Minor is already a reconstruction originally by Henri Gustave Casadesus perhaps best known for faking Mozart’s “Adelaide Violin Concerto”. In fact, this, too, is probably a forgery and a Casadesus original. The orchestration is enriched by Franz Beyer and the result a deft, old fashioned (yet idiosyncratic) classical-period concerto. Saying that it enriches the viola concerto catalog might be going too far, but it certainly expands it.

Franz Anton Hoffmeister’s concert is, together with Stamitz’s, the mother of modestly inspired viola concertos and the bane of every competition-playing violist (and more so even the jury members’). Franz Beyer tried to help the concerto by orchestrating it a little more imaginatively than the surviving orchestral parts indicate. That’s welcome indeed, although not sufficient to turn it into a great concerto, of course. What remains is enhanced loveliness.

It’s difficult to speak of the Hindemith’ s Funeral Music “filling out” a disc that’s only 55 minutes long, but it concludes this slightly random program. By far the shortest and by far the most substantial work on this disc, it receives the most sympathetic performance. Still, that doesn’t keep me from preferring Kim Kashkashian/Dennis Russel Davies (ECM). In Telemann (which Arte Nova has now three different recordings of), my standard remains Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Cologne (Archiv).

For those curious about the repertoire, this might still be an attractive purchase at Arte Nova’s super-budget price. But neither Hartmut Rohde (curiously credited as a violinist in the sloppy liner notes) nor the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra Vilnius of 1996 (the recording date) offer additional arguments for a purchase. During the 2008 ARD Competition, where I heard nearly three dozen young violists (including five Hoffmeister performances), I’ve encountered several players whose tone and alacrity I’d much rather have enjoyed than Rohde’s unquestionable but stodgy competence. More a lukewarm shrug than a recommendation, then.