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Joseph Magil
American Record Guide, July 2011

Jennifer Stumm, who teaches viola at the Royal College of Music, is a very polished and suave violist. She has all the technique these works demand and probably much more, she plays dead in tune, and her bowing is supple and lively. I would love to hear more from her. Her partners are also top-notch. Good sound.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

MusicWeb International, May 2011

This is another disc in Naxos’s longstanding, occasional and hybrid Laureate Series. It’s the home for young soloists who have won some music competition or other. Naxos, incongruously give prominence on the cover to the artist—big lettering and a photo—over any featured composer. In this case the soloist is American violist Jennifer Stumm and the composer who must give way is the Italian Alessandro Rolla.

Unsurprisingly, Rolla was conservative in his musical inclinations. Though he outlived fellow violin-viola virtuoso Nicolò Paganini, Rolla was born a quarter of a century earlier, only a year after Mozart. He wrote a large amount of instrumental music—in fact, there is no record of any vocal music by him. Most of his corpus is chamber music, much of it for violin, viola or both together.

Rolla wrote five short pieces for solo viola, the three Esercizi (‘Exercises’) featured here, plus two Intonazioni—could Naxos not have added these to the otherwise rather ungenerous timing? Rolla wrote these Esercizi for his students. The F major and E flat pieces are both lyrical, slightly wistful Andantes, very alike in feel, though the longer latter has a short energetic section in the middle. The piece in G, with the extended title Esercizio e Arpeggio, contains a lot more double-stopping and more alternation of faster and slower sections. Otherwise it is similar to the previous two, both in the immediate attractiveness of the rich sonorities teased from the instrument by Stumm and in Rolla’s almost effortless invention.

The Duetto in A is the first of three published as Rolla’s op.18 around 1835. Duos were clearly Rolla’s favourite medium—he wrote more than 250 altogether, mainly for two violins, two violas or, as here, for one of each. It is fair to say that the violin gets a little more of the action here, apart from the final movement, where the viola often leads. The Duetto is in some ways more conservative than Mozart’s duos K.423 and K.424, which were published fifty years earlier. Such facts should be of little importance to the listener in search of appealing, superbly crafted music—which is exactly what this is.

Published around 1804, the two Sonatas, op.3 were written by Rolla in the old-fashioned format of viola and basso, although he did eventually write several sonatas with piano. The piano versions played here were realised by Italian arranger Franco Tamponi, who died at the end of 2010. The first Sonata is classically Classical in its three movements, Allegro-Lento-Allegro, and its emphasis on melody, simplicity and proportion. The second Sonata is in a slightly shadier minor key but is otherwise similar, though lacking a slow movement. Given that the piano parts are transcriptions of Rolla’s bass originals, the piano’s role is supportive rather than equal. The viola writing, though appropriately restrained, is far from uninteresting. Jennifer Stumm plays the Sonatas with sunlit zest.

The Sonata in C is a later work, thought to have been written in the following decade, and unpublished in Rolla’s lifetime. Again this piece was written for viola and bass. The version on this disc uses Tamponi’s arrangement for piano. By this time Rolla was professor of both violin and viola at the new Milan Conservatory, as well as conductor at La Scala, where he gave performances of both operas and instrumental music. In the last two movements, Romance and Prestissimo, the influence of operatic structure and embellishments are apparent, but the Sonata is another optimistic, if not exactly forward-looking work promising handsome melodic reward to listeners.

Jennifer Stumm gives a fine performance on this disc, as befits her highlighted status, but so do Liza Ferschtman in the Duetto, and Connie Shih in the Sonatas. Sound quality at Potton Hall is of the highest quality; if only all chamber music could be recorded there!

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, April 2011

My lifelong immersion in classical music has made me curious about composers I had never heard of—Rolla being a case in point. No pun intended, but I was not disappointed (that too happens…) One has to really look hard to find any mention of Rolla in the catalogues, where only his son Antonio has a few lines, and under Rolla, the sole entry in Baker’s is extra-brief: Rolla, Antonio: Italian violinist, son of Alessandro Rolla (1798–1837). He studied with his father, was concertmaster of the Italian Opera Co. Orchestra, and composed a number of violin pieces. Well, this CD was a pleasant surprise! Rolla Sr was Paganini’s teacher, no less! Listening to Paganini’s smaller-scale chamber works, Rolla’s influence is abundantly evident. But enough of history. What we have here is an absolutely phenomenal display of virtuoso viola playing, in which Ms Stumm achieves the supposedly impossible feat of spot-on, beautiful intonation, exquisitely-honed viola playing and musical intelligence. All the works chosen fall pleasantly on the ear, and her collaborators too deserve a nice round of applause. I feel that the cover photo of the artist in the heat of performance is truly worth a thousand words. Brava, bravissima!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

Though the music of Alessandro Rolla is long forgotten, his name lives on as the stated teacher of Paganini, though there are doubts as to the validity of that claim. Having been born Pavia in 1757, he became the leading viola player of his time, and as the leader of the court orchestra in Parma he must have been equally skilled on both instruments. He was later to become renowned as a conductor, his thirty-one years in that position at Milan’s La Scala taking him through to the period where he ‘discovered’ the young Verdi. As a prolific composer he remained wedded to the era of Mozart, though in time-scale his 84 years took him into the world of Liszt and Berlioz. Viola players of the time owed him a debt as he added much the instrument’s slim repertoire. The present disc offers the three sonatas, not in their original form for viola and bass, but in a later version with keyboard accompaniment. Though it offers no more than a functional backdrop, it has totally changed the sound texture.Two date from the beginning of the 19th century, the third being unpublished in his lifetime and probably from the latter half of his life. All are of modest difficulty, the fast movements being the most rewarding moments for the listener. The opus 18 Violin and Viola duo comes even later, offering outgoing virtuosity to the violin. It is stunningly played by the 2006 Dutch Music Prize winner, Liza Ferschtman, a violinist much in demand around Europe. The disc is completed by three Esercizi , each study dealing with a specific technique. Jennifer Stumm, winner of three major awards, including the William Primrose, offers unfailingly good intonation and a pleasing unforced tone. Connie Shih is the pianist, and the recording is well balanced.

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