TABEA ZIMMERMANN (b 1966 )
Tabea Zimmermann started learning the viola at the age of three and the piano at fi ve, going on to study with Ulrich Koch at the Freiburg Musikhochschule and later with Sándor Végh at the Salzburg Mozarteum. After winning a number of major viola competitions she became established, on European and Israeli concert circuits in particular, with conductor David Shallon to whom she was married. Her first place at the 1983 Maurice Vieux Competition provided (as with other prize-winners such as Tomter and Power) an outstanding ‘kick-start’ to her career, not least through receiving a viola by renowned French luthier Étienne Vatelot which she still plays today.
An active teacher in Europe, currently holding a professorship in Berlin, Zimmermann’s professional performing interests have extended to string quartets, with the establishment of the Arcanto Quartet in 2004.
Her playing represents modern viola artistry at its finest, with deep resonance and fine control of colour, dynamics and timbre furnishing some fluid, imaginative interpretations. Beethoven’s Duo with Maria Kliegel (2003–2004) begins somewhat bullishly with a commanding sound from both players, but settles down to a characterful and vibrant performance. There are no concessions to period style here, but the consistent attention to shaping and crafting of phrases (mainly through dynamic shadings) is striking. Similar qualities inhabit a luscious approach to Spohr’s Op. 13 Duo (2006), although there is little question that Spohr’s intended sound-world was rather more ascetic. There is quite a lot of vibrato here and liberties he doubtless would not have approved are taken with his notation. It is also a shame that one of Spohr’s specialities, the on-string up-bow staccato, featured in the last movement, is commuted to a rather more conventional modern sprung stroke. Nonetheless, there is some impassioned playing here which amply fits the twentieth-century mainstream notion of Romanticism.
Zimmermann proves a powerful advocate of Bloch’s music, given that his often dense textures are rendered rather too darkly by many players. The Suite Hebraïque with the Deutsches Symphonie- Orchester (2009) presents the three contrasting movements in a way that makes perfect sense of their placement, whilst the Suite for Viola and Piano, from a 1999 album of Jewish music with Jascha Nemstov, is equally fine without being overstated. Opportunities for warmth are perhaps missed at the opening, however, and the Allegro ironico movement could be more dance-like.
This selection of recordings includes two works by female composers: Sally Beamish’s Viola Concerto No. 2 (2007; dedicated to Zimmermann’s late husband, conductor David Shallon), and the Sonata by Rebecca Clarke whose greatness has only recently come to be fully appreciated. Both are compelling performances. The three andante movements of Beamish’s work have a haunting sense of loss, which, as one might expect, is explored by Zimmermann with the utmost authenticity. Her 2010 Clarke performance is a triumph: notable in particular is the sense of architecture and rhetoric, and great confidence with malleability of tempo.
Arguably, Zimmermann’s playing is prone to a few less desirable modern mannerisms, such as the tendency to create a wider and slower vibrato at the ends of sustained quiet notes for no obvious reason (a trait shared by popular music vocalists). Any such minor criticisms are more than compensated for, however, by the sheer strength of character exhibited throughout Zimmermann’s discography.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)