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Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, July 2010

Lionel Tertis and William Primrose were the 20th century’s most famous violists, and both of their names are prominent in this collection. Roger Chase studied with Tertis for a brief period, and now plays Tertis’s Montagnana instrument (which previously was played by Chase’s teacher Bernard Shore). Tertis also was the inspiration behind some of Joseph Jongens’s works for the viola, although the impressive Introduction et Danse was composed for another violist of note, Maurice Vieux. As for Primrose, he was the intended recipient of Benjamin’s Le Tombeau de Ravel, although Primrose’s encroaching deafness in the late 1950s moved Benjamin to arrange the work for clarinet instead. (It was premiered by Gervase de Peyer.)

In terms of length, the big works here are the Benjamin (13:30) and the Paganini (14:38). Written long after Ravel’s death, the former is hardly mournful in tone, and might better be described as a work cleverly in the style of the French master, but lacking his profundity. Speaking of profundity, that is not a quality I associate with Paganini, but sometimes virtuosity creates its own emotional depth, and I admit I was more impressed with this sonata (really a theme-and-variations set) than I expected to be. (The cadenzas are by Atar Arad.) Kodály’s arrangement of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy (the one originally for keyboard) is masterly, and the Enescu is of a high stature as well. The Vieuxtemps Elégie might tear out your heart—if you’ve had enough wine—and Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro works just as well on the viola as it does on the violin. The program ends jauntily with Bernard Shore’s own folksy Scherzo.

Chase is a familiar figure in the viola world, and hearing this recital one never doubts that he is a master of his instrument, as well as a musically sensitive and responsive performer. Some violists produce a richer tone, but this probably is more a function of their instruments than of their playing itself. Michiko Otaki is a strong accompanist who is in no danger of fading into the background. They have been microphoned closely, though, so expect to hear more than your share of extramusical noises on this disc. Booklet note duty has been divided between Chase and Otaki, with successful results.

Ask yourself if you really need another violin recital right now, and if the answer to that question is “no,” then acquire this CD at the earliest opportunity. I doubt that you will be disappointed.

James Manheim, May 2010

This is one of just a few collections of virtuoso viola music, but most of the great violinists also played the viola, and the album resurrects some little-known gems. Except for the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro, all the music here was originally composed for the viola, even Arthur Benjamin’s Le tombeau de Ravel, which is better known in a version for clarinet. Despite the connections with violin music, the viola has its own idiom, emphasizing melody and tone more than finger acrobatics; the only two works really in the athletic mode are the Sonata per la gran viola by Paganini himself and the Capriccio for solo viola of Henri Vieuxtemps. More typical is the lovely Pièce de concert of Enescu, where the player must maintain a suavity of tone through passages involving an octatonic scale and other melodic novelties. The program introduces a worthwhile work from a forgotten composer, the Belgian pedagogue Joseph Jongen, whose Introduction et Danse, Op. 102, is recital-ready. The performances by British-born violist Roger Chase and pianist Michiko Otaki, who also wrote the booklet notes (in English, with each covering separate pieces rather than collaborating), are competent although rather restrained for the likes of Paganini. The sound environment of Britain’s engineer-beloved Potton Hall is superb.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Roger Chase is one of the UK’s internationally acclaimed violists, and having spent time studying with the legendary Lionel Tertis, it is on his mentor’s massive and famous Montagnana instrument that he now plays. The title of the present disc does not refer to the type of titillating virtuosity beloved of audiences, but is to describe the prodigious technical hurdles the music demands. It is a well constructed programme that shows the viola in works from the 18th to the 20th century. Most are original compositions for the instrument, the major exception being Kodály’s arrangement for solo viola of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia. It is in the Paganini Sonata per la gran viola that Chase can overtly demonstrate his superb technique, with flying spicatto, loads of double stopping and fingers that fly round the fingerboard. The disc’s nine tracks open with a timely reminder that Arthur Benjamin, best remembered for his light music, was an extremely fine composer of serious scores as shown in his extensive Le tombeau de Ravel. It is also nice to become acquainted with Joseph Jongen’s very effective Introduction and Dance, and after Henry Vieuxtemps’ short Capriccio for solo viola, the robust nature of his Elegie comes as something of a surprise. Kreisler’s Prelude and Allegro, better known on the violin; Bernard Shore’s brief Scherzo and George Enescu’s Piece de Concert complete the album. It really is playing that is outstanding in every way, Michiko Otaki being a pianist equally adept at remaining in the background or playing a vital role. Lovely recorded sound in a disc that will have listener appeal outside of the viola world.

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