ClassicsOnline Home » Viola Recital: Chase, Roger - BENJAMIN, A. / ENESCU, G. / KODALY, Z. / JONGEN, J. / VIEUXTEMPS, H. / PAGANINI, N. / KREISLER, F. (The Virtuoso Viola)
Lovers of the viola will rejoice at this deliciously varied musical feast: Zoltán Kodály’s magnificent transcription of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia, Paganini’s Sonata (actually a theme and variations), two elegiac pieces by Vieuxtemps, Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro, Benjamin’s Le tombeau de Ravel, Enescu’s treacherously difficult yet fluidly melodic Concert Piece, Jongen’s impressionistic Introduction et Danse, and Bernard Shore’s charming Scherzo.
Virtuoso Music for Viola and Piano
Arthur Benjamin (1893–1960): Le tombeau de Ravel • George Enescu (1881–1955): Concert Piece
Joseph Jongen (1873–1953): Introduction et Danse, Op. 102
Henry Vieuxtemps (1820–1881): Capriccio for solo viola • Elégie, Op. 30
Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840): Sonata per la gran viola
Fritz Kreisler (1871–1962): Praeludium and Allegro
Australian composer and pianist Arthur Benjamin is best known for his “light” music represented by his many film scores and the 1938 popular tune Jamaican Rumba, which is heard worldwide even today. He was, nevertheless, a “serious” composer, trained by the renowned composition teacher Sir Charles Stanford at London’s Royal College of Music, later becoming a professor there himself. His compositions show influences of Latin American dance music, as well as those of traditional and contemporary English and French music. In Le tombeau de Ravel Benjamin pays tribute to that French composer with its title (after Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin) and structure (similar
to that of Valses nobles et sentimentales). Though better known today in its clarinet version, it was originally composed for viola and piano in 1958 for William Primrose. Compelled by increasing concerns over Primrose’s progressive deafness, Benjamin sought the assistance of the British clarinet virtuoso Gervase de Peyer, who gave the première.
Romanian composer, pianist and violinist George Enescu received formal training in Vienna, and later at the Paris Conservatoire with Massenet and Fauré. Requested by Fauré, he served on the competition jury at the Paris Conservatoire from 1904 to 1910, and was commissioned to compose solo pieces for various instruments in 1904 and 1906. The Concert Piece for Viola and Piano was composed for the 1906 competition. The piece’s flowing piano accompaniment, dreamy atmosphere and subtle harmonic colours show
the strong influence of Fauré, but the extended, fluid melodic line in the viola is unmistakably Enescu. Perhaps because of his love of native Romanian folksongs full of melismatic melodies, Enescu considered himself above all a melodic composer. In his own words: “A piece deserves to be called a musical composition only if it has a line, a melody, or, even better, melodies superimposed on one another”. The Concert Piece exhibits an abundance of superimposed melodies, often treacherously difficult because of their
use of chromatic and octatonic scales.
Born in Liège, Belgian composer Joseph Jongen was best known as an organist and composer of organ music, but he was also a very fine pianist, and his compositions range from solo piano music to choral and theatrical music. He became a professor at the Brussels Conservatoire, and served as its Director from 1925 to 1939. The impressionistic Introduction et Danse, Op. 102, was composed in 1935, and its orchestrated version was given its première in Paris the following year. It was dedicated to Maurice Vieux, a good friend of Jongen and a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. During World War I Jongen lived in exile in London, where he was a member of the Belgian Piano Quartet whose violist was the English virtuoso Lionel Tertis. Tertis’ extraordinary playing undoubtedly kindled Jongen’s interest in the viola, but after his 1915 Suite for Viola and Orchestra met Tertis’ refusal, all of Jongen’s subsequent viola compositions were dedicated to Vieux. French composer Jacques Ibert was impressed with the Introduction et Danse, calling it “a delightful work, restrained but well written for the instrument”.
Belgian composer and violin virtuoso Henry Vieuxtemps studied in Vienna and Paris, and had a brilliant career from the age of six, touring as soloist all over Europe, Russia and the United States. He became a successful and influential teacher at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1871, but was forced to resign after a stroke caused paralysis of his right arm. Vieuxtemps was hugely admired and respected as both violinist and composer by prominent musicians of his day. Robert Schumann found Vieuxtemps’ Leipzig concert in 1834
“magical” and wrote about the fourteen-year old violinist in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, comparing him to Paganini: “His playing has the fragrance of a flower. His accomplishment is complete, masterly throughout”. Hector Berlioz, after hearing Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 1, exclaimed: “To Vieuxtemps’
merits as an eminent virtuoso, he now adds no less a reputation as a composer”. Vieuxtemps enjoyed playing the viola, especially in string quartets. The two elegiac viola compositions recorded here, the Capriccio and the Elégie, provide the player with ample opportunity to display virtuosity, poetic expressiveness and beauty of
The legendary violinist Nicolò Paganini developed an interest in the viola as a solo instrument around 1832. When considering a new concerto to play on his prized Stradivarius viola, the obvious composer of choice for Paganini was Hector Berlioz, whose Symphonie fantastique greatly enraptured him. Berlioz answered Paganini’s request with Harold in Italy, but Paganini was apparently unsatisfied by the composer’s effort. Berlioz remembers in his Mémoires that Paganini, upon seeing all the rests at the opening, protested: “That won’t do. I am silent too long; I must play all the time”. With this disappointment, and also perhaps inspired by Berlioz’s suggestion that Paganini write his own viola concerto, the violinist produced the Sonata per la Gran Viola e Orchestra, which he performed in London in 1834. The word Sonata was used here to mean a piece of instrumental music, rather than in the sense of the classical sonata form (it is a theme and variations, with a prolonged introduction). Paganini played it on a large viola, hence the name la Gran Viola. The cadenzas performed on this recording are based on those by the violist Atar Arad, with further improvisations by Roger Chase.
The extraordinary Austrian-American violinist Fritz Kreisler, whose warm tone and heavenly, spontaneous music-making enchanted the world over, composed some charming solo pieces for violin, as well as chamber music, songs and operettas. He also created over a dozen pieces he called Classical Manuscripts and attributed them to composers of the Baroque and
Classical eras. Kreisler’s claim that he had discovered those manuscripts was never openly challenged until 1935, when The New York Times critic Olin Downes asked the violinist where to find the original manuscripts. The piece in question was the Praeludium and Allegro, which Kreisler had attributed to the Italian Baroque composer and violinist Gaetano Pugnani. Though the revelation caused a scandal, it appears that Kreisler never meant any harm, nor did he intend to deceive the public for over thirty years. His reply to Downes’ question suggests that he would have told the public the truth (that these pieces were, in fact, his own original creations), had he ever been asked before. The version on this disc is an arrangement for viola by Lionel Tertis, transposed down a fifth, and with an extended two-octave run towards the end.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1695–1750):
Fantasia cromatica, arranged for solo viola by Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967)
Bernard Shore (1896–1985): Scherzo
The great Hungarian violist Pál Lukács periodically asked Kodály to compose a viola concerto or a sonata for him. On each occasion Kodály replied, “hmm, maybe”. Then one day in 1950 Kodály knocked on the door of the viola studio in the Liszt Academy of Budapest, and put a bundle of manuscripts on Lukács’
desk saying, “Here is something for you”. It was the Bach-Kodály Chromatic Fantasy for Viola Solo. Lukács soon after gave the world première, but to his disappointment Kodály had the arrangement published in London by Boosey & Hawkes with the dedication “to William Primrose”. At that time it was possibly more to Kodály’s advantage to earn western currency and recognition than to honour his fellow countryman, Lukács. Be that as it may, violists have both men to
thank for this magnificent contribution to the viola literature. Hans von Bülow said of the piece: “He who cannot read between the lines, he who cannot avail himself of the genius of receptivity, he who has no imagination of his own, should remain a respectful distance from Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy”.
Musicians who play but do not compose are a modern phenomenon. Bernard Shore represented the last generation of British player-composers. He was an intensely musical, multi-faceted and gifted educator, superb violist, writer, inspirational leader and friend with infinite compassion and humanity. He was Tertis’ favourite pupil, later owner of the Montagnana viola played by Tertis and also by me on this present recording. Typically modest, Shore whispered to me after I played the Scherzo at his eightieth birthday
concert, “Thank you. I never dared play it m’self!” It was written in the early 1930s, first published in 1933, and is a model of late Edwardian charm, restraint and
twinkling humour. It is included in this collection as a tribute to my teacher, one of the most beloved musicians of the twentieth century and one of the most influential and selfless of men in the field of education.