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(b 1946 )

As the only player ever to have won the Carl Flesch Violin Competition playing the viola, Csaba Erdélyi received the highest praise from none other than Lionel Tertis, who heard him perform in the 1972 finals and called him ‘a great ambassador for the viola and for his country’. Even this long after the emergence of pioneers like Nedbal, Tertis, Trampler, Riddle and Primrose, the viola was still evidently struggling to be universally accepted as a solo instrument: when the Flesch prize was awarded to a violist, some organisations withdrew their promises of concert appearances for the winner. Nonetheless, this was an amazing achievement for Erdélyi, whose violin teachers at the Franz Liszt Academy had considered him most unpromising and instructed him to change to viola; even then he was a reluctant student, only flourishing at the very end of his time at the Academy. Important opportunities now ensued for Erdélyi including an invitation from Szigeti and Serkin to play at the Marlboro Festival, a performance of the Walton Viola Concerto for the BBC and involvement in Menuhin’s Gstaad Festival. Erdélyi’s international career was thus born and since then he has worked with countless major figures and ensembles across the world including, notably, as violist of the Chilingirian Quartet—a position which he chose over an offer from Solti to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as principal.

Known for his nurturing approach, Erdélyi has made teaching an important part of his life, introducing a course of his own devising—‘The History of the Viola and Viola Players’—and seeing many students succeed in their own playing and teaching careers.

Trained in Budapest by Pál Lukács, his Hungarian musical heritage has had particular significance for Erdélyi (whose name translates as ‘Transylvanian’) in his twenty-two-year project to restore and complete Bartók’s unfinished Viola Concerto, working with the manuscript which had been assumed lost before 1978 and removing spurious additions made in a previous version by Serly and Primrose. His edition, however, is not endorsed by Bartók’s son Peter, and there is no internationally-available recording. Menuhin, who also taught Erdélyi and admired the Hungarian traits in his playing, called him ‘an important link between the two great musical cultures of Eastern and Western Europe’.

Erdélyi’s recordings of Liszt’s pieces for viola and piano with Ian Hobson (1996) reveal a very full tone with great power and projection on the upper strings. The Romance oubliée (which only really came into the viola’s repertoire with Kashkashian’s and Caussé’s recordings of the 1980s) flourishes under Erdélyi’s post-Romantic approach, although his vibrato is distractingly slow. Harold en Italie, in Liszt’s transcription, is performed by Erdélyi with great drama and is rather better in terms of ensemble than Paul Coletti’s recording of four years earlier, whilst Britten’s Lachrymae (1990) evidences an uncluttered tone with moderate vibrato and a tight, articulate approach entirely appropriate to the repertoire.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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