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Elgar and Schnittke on the Viola

available at Amazon
Elgar / Schnittke, Viola Concertos,
D. A. Carpenter, Philharmonia
Orchestra, C. Eschenbach

(released on August 25, 2009)
Ondine ODE 1153-2 | 64'50"
Christoph Eschenbach champions the work of young musicians wherever he goes, and when he takes over the National Symphony Orchestra this fall Washingtonians are likely to get to know all of Eschenbach's favorites during his tenure here. American violist David Aaron Carpenter came to Eschenbach's attention when he won the 2005 Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Competition, earning the chance to perform Walton's viola concerto with the orchestra. Carpenter then went on to win first prize at the Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition the following year, as well as being sponsored by Rolex in a special mentoring program in 2007, which led to studies with Pinchas Zukerman. It's hard to imagine more things going right for a young musician's career, and now he can add to his resume a CD debut, on the Ondine label, again with Eschenbach but this time with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Carpenter leads with his own adaptation of Elgar's cello concerto, based on the one by Lionel Tertis that was approved by the composer himself, and while one wishes that he had recorded the Walton concerto instead, this is a beautiful performance of a curiosity that may find a place as an alternate version of the work. The draw of the CD is Alfred Schnittke's enigmatic viola concerto, composed for Yuri Bashmet in 1985 (the one with full orchestra, not the later one for small orchestra), just before the composer suffered a life-altering stroke. Carpenter has also studied with Bashmet, whose name is (almost) spelled out in one of the concerto's musical themes, but the student's attempt does not yet supplant the teacher's recordings. Schnittke was at the height of his powers when he composed the work, and it is not only an exploration of the instrument's expressive powers -- all of which Carpenter displays, from velvety purr to junkyard bark -- but also unites in one piece some of the most unusual instrumental, harmonic, and melodic colors ever created (especially in the hallucinatory second movement, where the combination of tam-tams, flexatone, xylophone, vibes, harpsichord, piano, and no violins is at its most surreal, with some passages sounding like a demented carousel.)

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