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Having started (like most violists) on the violin, Ernst Wallfisch switched to the viola at fourteen and made his debut at eighteen. His training at the Bucharest Conservatory afforded him contact with George Enescu who encouraged him, and there too he met his duo partner Lory who in 1944 also became his wife.

Wallfisch’s playing evidences a versatility characteristic of many twentieth-century players. His proficiency on the viola da gamba is heard in Telemann’s Overture (Suite) in D, especially in the final three movements where he brims with confidence and his handling of both instrument and repertoire is idiomatic (noticeably more so than the accompanying orchestra). Vanhal’s C Major Viola Concerto (1972) shows equal prowess with a modern instrument, in a very lively and committed performance with great care evident in crafting the Classical phrase shapes. It is a shame that more of such Classicism is not evident in his performance of Hummel’s Fantasy in G Minor, which, with the exception of the final section, is somewhat slow and unshaped; the depth and sensitivity of Wallfisch’s sound is still very attractive, if somewhat unrepresentative of Hummel’s likely performance expectations.

Milhaud’s Viola Sonata No. 2 (1979) is diff erent again, full of exciting energy and accentual vibrancy, even if the rather hollow studio recording sound shows its age. Occasionally over-wide vibrato is more than counterbalanced by apparent enthusiasm for this music, also characteristic of the more elegiac Concertino d’Été (1958), which shows evident understanding of the often introspective writing. These recordings demonstrate very well why Menuhin, hearing the Wallfisch Duo in 1946, was eager to open up new opportunities for Ernst and Lory by helping them emigrate to America. Following this Wallfisch carved a successful path playing with the Dallas, Cleveland and Detroit Orchestras and teaching at a number of European and US institutions. After his death Lory donated around 300 items of his viola music to the Primrose International Viola Archive.

Wallfisch’s childhood experiences of amateur music-making at home—his father often played chamber music with friends—were an important inspiration to him and perhaps the source of the spontaneity and vividness that make his performances so successful.

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

Role: Classical Artist 
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