Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Patricia Pollet
Stringendo, October 2008

The great 20th-century violist William Primrose made many transcriptions thoughout his career to enliven his programs and compete with repertoire of the more traditional virtuoso instruments. From Naxos comes a collection of these transcriptions played by Roberto Diaz on Primrose’s own early Amati instrument.

Chilean-American Diaz, principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and recently appointed director of the Curtis Institute of Music, gives a personal account of these works.

The CD cannot help but summon comparison with Primrose himself, who left a substantial recorded legacy of much of this repertoire. Diaz falls somewhat short of the great master. His technique is impressive however, marrying a beautifully rich, even tone with spot-on intonation. But it is his lack of musical invention and character that lets the disc down. Diaz excels in the slow, melancholy pieces, where he takes a rather noble approach, with respectful sensitivity. His sound, with the dark Amati in tow, is wonderfully etched with a vocal quality perfectly befitting the songs of Wagner and Schubert. It’s in the pithy, faster numbers that spirit and energy are wanting. Tempi are quite lethargic, crying out for greater spontaneity and fantasy. Primrose managed to find amazing variety and humour in these little vignettes. Although one couldn’t help marvel at his prowess, the use of extraordinary technique elevated the music to a level greater than it may have deserved.

It’s a useful collection nonetheless and one that hopefully may encourage players to take up these pieces. Not all are of the Paganini La Camanella difficulty. Popular melodies such as the Borodin Nocturne and Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras should be attractive enticements for younger players to enjoy. The pianist Robert Koenig accompanies admirably.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, September 2006

It’s been an enjoyable experience listening to Roberto Díaz and Robert Koenig’s performances of William Primrose’s transcriptions. Even more salutary has been the experience of pitting Díaz against Primrose himself, in those pieces that the Scotsman recorded. Primrose enjoyed transcribing songful melody spicing them with salty, rhythmic Latin Americana and these two facets of his art, though he was very modest about them, share disc space with Efrem Zimbalist’s own Sarasateana. This was something Primrose famously recorded to his own dissatisfaction, though the disc was nevertheless issued and hearing it many years later the violist found he very much liked it after all.

Naxos promotes the fact that Díaz plays Primrose’s own Brothers Amati viola, newly restored, and this supposedly lends some piquancy to the proceedings, as does the fact that Díaz’s father was a Primrose pupil. There’s no reason however why Díaz should seek to emulate the older player and indeed he proves an individualist resistant to the more visceral and overtly tangy properties evinced by Primrose. So Díaz is consistently slower and more languorous, less given to rubati and timbral contrasts – more patrician, in a word. Primrose’s 1947 recordings, with the excellent David Stimer, of a number of these pieces can be found on Biddulph 80147-2; boxily recorded no doubt but full of brilliant colour and life.

The Aguirre/Heifetz, to take one example, sees a gruff Primrose exploring brilliant contrastive devices, whereas Díaz prefers a more sanguine and horizontal elegance of expression. The Valle/Heifetz doesn’t really come across as "allegro comodo" in Díaz’s hands and sounds rather literal after the Scotsman. There are only three movements here from Primrose’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Op.8 Serenade – we could have nicely done with them all. To Primrose’s dark grained incision, his faster tempi and tighter vibrato we can contrast Díaz’s more gentlemanly reserve. Something Primrose exploited to the full in the Zimbalist was fiery accenting. What sets his playing here apart is the fiery drive of the Polo, the timbral contrasts he generates throughout and the tension of the Zapateado, and so on.

To be sure Díaz spreads out languorously in the Borodin and proves an expressive exponent of the Schubert Litany. His vibrato usage is cannily and seductively varied in the Wagner. But one misses Primrose’s jutting panache in the Paganini and the brilliance of his incision in the more rollicking pieces. Which is no more than saying that Díaz exercises his right to see things differently, I suppose.

One can hear subtle differences in the hall acoustic from session to session even though the recordings took place within the space of a few days, but only through listening via headphones. Otherwise there’s a fine balance between instruments. I’ve not mentioned Koenig much; he follows his partner with sensitivity and reflects the broadly generous music-making very adeptly. Díaz meanwhile never forces through the tone, and never seeks to emulate the tougher, more brittle and incisive sound cultivated on the same instrument by the older player. It’s an adroit tribute from one violist to another but interested parties should certainly seek out Primrose’s own recordings; they bring tremendous reserves of energy and life and no little athletic poetry.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2006

For what this disc is - transcriptions of encore repertoire for viola - it doesn't get any better. Always an electric presence when playing solo, former Philadelphia Orchestra principal violist Roberto Diaz has rarely exhibited so much nuance and charm as in these works recast by one of the 20th century's great violists, William Primrose. Using an instrument once owned by Primrose, Diaz plays a selection of viola/piano selections by Wagner, Schubert, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. There's no confusing these two personalities. The temperamentally impetuous Diaz isn't one for Primrose's elegant, pinpoint attacks, and is more exciting as a result, even in some of the cornier moments of Efrem Zimbalist's Sarasateana. The first-class recording favors the baritonal register of Diaz's tone, so much that you sometimes wonder if you're hearing a cellist.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group