Israeli Rivka Golani (born to a Russian father and Polish mother who moved to Tel Aviv to escape anti-semitism) began on the violin aged seven, later becoming a pupil of Alexander Moskowsky and moving to the viola in her final year of university study, being attracted to its parity with the human voice. She joined the Israel Philharmonic, which included at that time Jewish musicians brought together from all over Europe by Bronisław Huberman. Golani’s solo career took her to North America where she met her first husband, Hungarian luthier Otto Erdesz, who made her a viola that became her favourite instrument. They moved to Canada in 1974 where Golani joined the Eden Trio, chamber group Octagon, and the Esprit Orchestra, whilst maintaining an international profile as both soloist and chamber musician. Over 200 works have been written for her—more than for any other violist.
Her playing is very much in the stylistic mould of recent players: open and resonant whilst at the same time articulate and clear in all registers. This is well displayed in the Viola Concerto by fellow Canada resident Peter Paul Koprowski (recorded c. 2000). She imbues the outer movements of this colourful, sometimes angry work with fiery ardour; a beautiful cantabile tone comes across in the middle movement. Golani commissioned this work in 1995 and gave its première, dubbing it ‘one of the major viola concerti of our time’. Her evident enthusiasm for modern works can also be heard in the powerful Improvisation III by André Prévost (1983), delivered with clarity at the heel of the bow in the opening gestures, whilst her ability to create an intense, compelling atmosphere is evident in Hindemith’s Trauermusik and Britten’s deeply-felt Lachrymae (c. 2000).
In older repertoire, Harold en Italie (1995) is polished, taking a spacious approach to sonority and tempo in the first movement, which is, in terms of accuracy, superior to Riddle’s famous recording of the work under Beecham.
Golani also recorded the complete Bach Cello Suites, transcribed for viola, in 2001, of which BWV 1009 is selected here. Approach of style and tempo strike today’s listener as conventional, but it is good to hear these works played so cleanly with a lack of post-Romantic tonal excess. All of this testifies to Golani’s versatility and quality as a fine violist.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)