Like so many other violists, Paul Doktor began his studies at an early age on the violin, under the guidance of his father Karl Doktor, also a well-known violist. His conversion to the viola came about rather unexpectedly. Having received his diploma in violin at nineteen from the Austrian State Academy of Music, he was touring as a violinist with the Adolf Busch Chamber Orchestra when the second violist due to perform a Mendelssohn quintet with the Busch Quartet fell ill. Doktor stepped in without a qualm and this led to him joining the Busch Quartet in a series of Mozart quintets at London’s Wigmore Hall. He subsequently won the Geneva International Music Competition’s First Prize—the first violist to receive the honour with a unanimous vote. His chamber music activities later involved him in the Rococo Ensemble (which he cofounded), the New York String Sextet, the New String Trio of New York and the Duo Doktor-Menuhin. In the latter capacity (with pianist Yaltah Menuhin, younger sister of Yehudi) he made four educational films about the viola in which he brought lesser-known and rarely-played repertoire to the fore, often using his own editions of the works.
After a well-received American début at the Library of Congress in Washington DC Doktor’s solo career also burgeoned. He gave the first American perfomance of a concerto by J.C.F. Bach for viola, keyboard and orchestra, which he had found in Paris. World premières included Quincy Porter’s Viola Concerto as well as the BBC and American premières of Wilfred Josephs’s Meditatio di Beornmundo, a concertante work for viola and orchestra.
As a faculty member at the Juilliard School, New York University and Mannes College, Doktor sustained a successful pedagogic career alongside his performing activities, teaching at several other institutions besides.
Doktor’s playing sounds modern to contemporary ears, although there is an indefinable intensity to the tone that defines his era, and a sense of discipline yet excitement that characterises the performances featured here. These include a fine 1951 Mozart Sinfonia concertante with Walter Berylli which is clear and free from mannerism, although the middle movement is perhaps rather slow by modern standards. Seventeen years later Doktor recorded Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Downes, a performance that balances the rigour and rhetorical tenseness of so many of Hindemith’s works with a bitter-sweet Romantic intensity, achieved by an ‘active’ tone and a tight sound with an intense vibrato and the bow relatively close to the bridge. With a full complement of the LPO he recorded the Walton Viola Concerto (also 1968) in a very fine performance, every bit as convincing as that of Frederick Riddle who made the first recording with Walton.
Doktor’s carefully-considered approach is well displayed by his Brahms Op. 120 Sonatas (c.1954), of which the second is perhaps the more convincing. There is a sense of discipline here: the sound is quite tight and maybe a little dry, but this is balanced by a pleasing urgency to the first movement, a dance-like approach with detectible Classical phrase shapes in the second movement, and a finale that manages to convey drama and not (as is so often the case) the ponderousness that can mar this work when it is played on the viola rather than the clarinet.
Considerable versatility is shown by Doktor’s performance of Ruth Schönthal’s Four Epiphanies (composed 1976, recorded 1983), which is demonstrative of his committed, intense sound, although by this time in his life his command of technical matters had waned a little and the pitch focus had lost some of its precision. Doktor’s tone can, as many of these recordings show, transgress boundaries of tonal beauty and sound slightly strained on the A-string; nonetheless, his compelling sense of architecture and cleanliness of conception fully compensate for this.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist