Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Steven E. Ritter
Fanfare, September 2010

The last Naxos viola release I reviewed contained the Lionel Tertis transcription of the Delius Third Violin Sonata (8.572407). That was a great recording, and so is this one. You can check there for some information on Lionel Tertis, perhaps the proto-violist of his time, and one of the first to achieve international fame. On this disc we have a transcription of the Cello Sonata, and it is in every way as effective as the previous issue; Tertis was very good at this sort of thing, having a remarkably good ear for tonality and register, and how to make a foreign instrument sound good in another guise. We have the composer’s imprimatur on this arrangement as well since he gave the premiere performance with Tertis. It is a likeable work, typically Delius, and if you like his music you will like this.

Gordon Jacob wrote much music in many guises, always well crafted and with a discernable structural logic. Particularly memorable in this piece is the thematic equivalent of a child sticking his tongue out at you and saying “naa-naa.” While a little startling and even obnoxious at first hearing, the way Jacob integrates it into a fully fledged sonata form is curiously involving—you actually look forward to the many repetitions of the theme after the first exposure. The rest of the piece is lovely, a fine Adagio that leads to a quickening of the pace as the last two movements of the sonata stand for only four minutes total!

Malcolm Arnold, most famous for his Oscar award-winning score to Bridge on the River Kwai, is another composer who, like Jacob, found himself at home in a variety of musical settings. His Viola Sonata is in three movements instead of the four that Jacob espouses, very moody and perhaps more descriptive in a “cinematic” way, particularly in the middle movement, which is unhurried yet full of subtle allusions to an undercurrent of threat from an unknown source. Lennox Berkley’s sonata is also in three movements, yet closer to 20 minutes in length (the previous two are around 12 each) and is characterized by the composer’s typically cerebral approach to all things structural. The opening sonata-form movement reflects this integrity of construction, Berkley’s art being one of absolute music generally devoid of programmatic suggestions, and rigorously attached to the notion of linear development, concise, clear and attenuated towards his always well-considered thematic subjects.

This is as good an introduction to English chamber music as I can think of, viola considerations aside, which makes it a gold mine for those so inclined. While I have heard richer tonal sound than that of Martin Outram, who seems to favor a more muscular approach to the instrument, this is not a fault, perhaps only reflective of his time merging his own unique talents with the other players of the Maggini Quartet. Julian Rolton complements him at every turn, assisted by the open and gracious sound of the Wyastone Concert Hall in Wales. Enthusiastically recommended.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, June 2010

“The Cinderella of string instruments”

“A violist and a cellist were standing on a sinking ship. ‘Help!’ cried the cellist, I can’t swim. ‘Don’t worry’, said the violist ‘just fake it.’”

“How can you be expected to take an instrument seriously when on a high-profile CD like this two of the works were originally written for cello”.

Now before the letters of protest clatter onto my doorstep I will add that the above are not my words but those of a lovely ex-pupil now in the viola section of a top London orchestra and enjoying every minute! We sat down with the score of Ireland’s Cello Sonata, the longest work on the disc and listened. The transcription is special because in part at least the composer made it himself for the great Lionel Tertis who inspired a whole raft of music for his instrument, both transcriptions and originals. He and Ireland broadcast the transcription during the second world war. It was what the composer wanted. True, you do lose some of the original brooding earthiness in favour of a wistful melancholy but this is not just a case of shoving everything up the octave for the viola. Ireland and Tertis exploited the wonderful viola range above the treble clef much more especially in the second movement. This meant re-voicing some of the piano chords quite magically. Martin Outram has a marvellous tone also in the darker lower octave and the balance with the piano is excellent.

The other première recording here is also a transcription. Delius’s Cello Sonata plays in one continuous lyrical flow with the soloist hardly ever resting. As Roger Buckley of the Delius Society comments in his very useful booklet note on this work it falls into three sections with a central dreamy Lento, molto tranquillo. Martin Outram has transcribed this himself and there is a precedent because Tertis transcribed other works of Delius in the composer’s lifetime and with his approval. This piece works very well and seems highly suitable in its new guise. In fact not knowing the original I could easily have thought that this arrangement was its original.

Given its English pastoral vein it seems incredible that Gordon Jacob’s Viola Sonata should date from 1978. This is particularly in movement two which speaks of past years with nostalgia and yearning. The outer movements are more spiky and the whole, as ever with Jacob, is beautifully and effortlessly conceived for an instrument he loved. He wrote two viola concertos fifty years apart and crafted many a fine sonata. My only complaint is that the happy finale is rather too short at less than two minutes.

Talking of spiky the most stylistically advanced piece here is Malcolm Arnold’s Sonata which is surprisingly an early work of 1947. His studies into Bartók can be detected in certain ‘nocturnal’ effects found in the outer movements mainly with the use of ‘sul pont’ and the very highest register. I even detected a touch of Piazzolla (before his time) in the first movement. It is a highly original utterance and typically quirky. It would be especially suitable both in length and required technique for a student recital.

Like the wine at Canaan in Galilee the best is saved until last with a wonderful performance of Lennox Berkeley’s Viola Sonata. And here the understanding behind this musical partnership comes to the fore because, as Outram writes in the interesting booklet notes the first movement “is in conversational sonata form” in which a balance of viola and piano is important. At one time the piano leads by suddenly and quixotically altering the mood and at another the viola. The middle movement is a heart-felt song which rises twice to an impassioned climax and the finale requires rhythmic dexterity from the partnership. This is a very fine work and I am delighted to make its acquaintance.

This disc is not just for aficionados of slightly obscure British music. This disc places the often-overlooked viola near the forefront of the musical life of the UK in the attraction it exercised over some of the finest composers of the era. That they took time out, as it were, to give it their best effort is praise indeed. With this music and these performances we are undoubtedly the richer.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, June 2010

A valuable and attractive sequence of British works for viola and piano…well worth investigating.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, May 2010

One of the glories of the invention of the CD is the expansion of recorded repertoire. Here is an example of that—you would never have had such a recital recorded in the days of the, I must say, much missed, vinyl LP. Gordon Jacob has done particularly well with the advent of CD, and quite right too, for here is a musician who could communicate with players and audiences, young people and amateurs alike, and create music for all and every event and combination of instruments…I hope that someone, after hearing this very enjoyable Sonata will give us the two Viola Concertos—number 1, in particular, is a superb work. By the way, Jacob’s music didn’t suit everyone, “Foul music by Gordon Jacob just over…” wrote George Lyttleton to Rupert Hart-Davis (or vice versa), but you cannot please everyone all the time. This Sonata…[is] very fair, a lovely piece, full of Jacob’s late-romanticism and worthy of a place on any concert platform.

We’ve been given some of Lionel Tertis’s transcriptions of other works over the years…Delius’s 3rd Violin Sonata (Naxos 8.572407) amongst them—and this version of Ireland’s marvellous Cello Sonata sounds very well, if, perhaps, one misses the plangent voice of yearning which only the cello can bring to some of the higher passages.

Malcolm Arnold’s Sonata is an early work, and it’s quite astringent in places, but, ever the melodist, there are tunes aplenty. In three movements—the first two have strangely enigmatic endings—the work is brought to an ebullient conclusion with a Presto feroce. The viola may not seem to be the kind of instrument whose music would invoke the designation feroce, but Arnold achieves it, without losing any of the viola’s gentlemanliness!

Outram’s own transcription of the Delius Cello Sonata is more successful than Tertis’s of the Ireland for the simple reason that Delius’s work is more inward-looking. Berkeley’s Sonata is a very serious piece with a deeply searching slow movement. This is framed by a subdued, and thoughtful, first movement and a fast and energetic finale.

What a fabulous disk! English music at its best in performances of the highest order. This isn’t for a minority audience—viola players only—this is essential listening for everyone with an interest in music. With very good performances and recording this is another success for Naxos and a valuable addition to its growing catalogue of English music.

Malcolm Hayes
BBC Music Magazine, May 2010

[This disc] contains more than enough fine material to lift it well out of the ‘specialists only’ category…the music adapts beautifully to the subtle range of light and shade [Outram] conjures from his instruments in every context…Rolton, too, is an alert and excellent accompanist throughout.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

A recent flurry of new releases has shown the impact the legendary violist, Lionel Tertis, made on music composed and arranged for the instrument, this latest disc from Martin Outram being a valuable catalogue addition. Though Tertis is only directly involved in one work—his transcription of John Ireland’s Cello Sonata—he was to elevate the viola within the minds of composers who were working in the mid-part of the 20th century. The other transcription—of Delius’s one-movement Cello Sonata—comes from the disc’s soloist. It was a score that sits high on the cello, and in that respect sings happily on the viola, though Delius was looking to the sonorous weight that his chosen instrument would impart. For violists it should now find a ready audience. The Ireland score, a rhapsodic piece that often wells up with passionate intensity, had its transcription blessed by the composer who had already promised a work for Tertis. Two of the original works, by Lennox Berkeley and Malcolm Arnold, followed each other in 1946 and 1947, though their composers came from very differing eras, Berkley’s score in modern tonality offering an outpouring of melody in the first two movements with a skittish, brilliant and witty finale. The twenty-six year old Arnold, by comparison, looks to explore the instrument’s full range, and if at times a little disjointed, he comes up with a readily attractive finale. Though born in the 19th century, Gordon Jacob was the last of these to write his concerto in 1978 at the age of eighty-three. It was of its time, at one moment gritty in quality while at others deeply touching, the four relatively short movements offering contrasting moods. As one would expect, Outram—the viola of the Maggini Quartet—is an admirable exponent, always dexterous in his left hand, and readily taking the role of accompanimentist to Julian Rolton’s excellent piano partnership.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group