Review By Barry Brenesal, Fanfare,July 2010
The liner notes provide a bit of background for the composers featured on this release, but nothing about the viola school that prompted their composition. So let’s take a moment, and fill in the gap.
Although violas have certainly been part of the Russian musical landscape for some time, their greatest proselytizer has been Vadim Borisovsky (1900–72). He began his studies at the Moscow Conservatory as a violinist, but soon changed over to the viola. He gave his first solo performance in 1922, and learned to play the viola d’amore in 1926. The following year he started a series of well-attended concerts of both original and transcribed compositions—ultimately arranging more than 250 on his own, everything from Caix d’Hervelois to Bartók.
In contrast to some works that pursue Scriabin’s widely ranging harmonic schemes, the conservative 1933 Sonata by Vladimir Kryukov (1902–60) aims solely at light coloration. Rachmaninoff is present, too; the second theme could have been penned by the émigré. Miaskovsky, Kryukov’s teacher, is nowhere in sight, much less Shostakovich, or anybody who chose to marry revolutionary musical concepts to revolutionary politics. Kryukov wears the 19th-century cut of his compositional clothes naturally, however, and provides a haunting work of captivating themes, good contrast, and effective development.
This isn’t the first recording of the Viola Sonata by Sergei Vasilenko (1872–1956)…The work itself is still more conservative than Kryukov, though with greater structural scope and stage presence. Like Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, the primary influences would appear to be French, including Vieuxtemps and Saint-Saëns. If the piano part weren’t so idiomatic some virtuosic violist would probably have long since converted the work over for viola and orchestra.
The Viola Sonata of Grigori Frid (b. 1915) moves forward stylistically. The liner notes mention that Frid’s manner became “more tragic and complex” in the 1960s, after years of influence by Shostakovich, but this work of 1971 is still heavily indebted to the older composer: his modalism, his interest in counterpoint, and some of his thematic fingerprints as well. Not that the Viola Sonata is any the worse for it, or for the presence of those associated with his school. The work moves from a melancholy march whose piercingly lyrical tone recalls Weinbermore....