Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 1 2016
Music for solo viola spanning 500 years in this engaging recital
As part of the Park Lane Group Young Artists series of recitals at St James's Church, Piccadilly, the viola player Rosalind Ventris (who is a Park Lane Group Young Artist) gave a solo recital on Wednesday 30 November 2016. She performed the Prelude from Howard Blake's Benedictus Op.402 (1980), Johann Sebastian Bach's Suite No. 3 BWV 1009 for solo cello (c1720/21), transcribed for viola, and Edwin Roxburgh's Monologue for Solo Viola (2010).
The viola is not always thought of as a solitary instrument, if we hear it in recital it is usually with other instrumentalists, but here Rosalind Ventris showed that the instrument's rich elegiac lower tones and singing higher register can make a really expressive protagonist, with both Blake and Roxburgh taking full advantage of the instrument's capabilities. In the Bach, transcription simply requires playing the music an octave higher as the viola's strings are tuned exactly an octave above those of the cello, yet the particularity of the viola's tone made a very different effect.
Howard Blake's Benedictus is a large scale oratorio about the spiritual journey of a novice in a monastic order. The prelude, for solo viola, represents the aloneness of the central character. Starting from elegiac melancholy, the piece exploited the rich lower viola tone and Ventris brought a lovely singing quality to it. As the piece developed so did the sense of drama, with a real feeling of questioning, before returning to the more contemplative material of the opening.
Ventris gave a lovely free performance of the 'Prelude' to Bach's Suite No. 3, capturing the improvisatory character of the music. The combination of the viola's interesting veiled tone quality and the fact that the instrument is smaller than the cello, so the string crossing is less vigorous, meant that Bach's work had a fascinatingly different effect even though the transcription did minimal damage to the music. Ventris played the 'Allemande' with easy grace and a sense of the dance, whilst the mellow 'Courante' was more abstract with a lovely evenness in the passage-work. The slow 'Sarabande' with elegiac singing tone from the viola made a contemplative impression, and the pair of 'Bourees' contrasted perky rhythms with fine elegant tone. Finally a vigorous toe-tapping 'Gigue' which sounded amazingly modern at times. Ventris used the particular tone of the viola to create a very engaging performance of the Bach
Edwin Roxburgh wrote a series of solo Soliloquies for violin, viola and cello commissioned for his students by David Takeno (with whom Rosalind Ventris studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama). Roxburgh's Monologue for Solo Viola, was commissioned by Takeno as a follow-up work and it is dedicated to Rosalind Ventris. The work started with atmospheric harmonics, interrupted by more intense material which gradually developed. It is a technically demanding work, using contrasts in texture, gesture and register to create a dramatic narrative, climaxing in an intense, strenuous close. Yet despite the drama, there was something thoughtful and concentrated about the piece.
Elsewhere on this blog:
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- Lots of taste, not much excess: Le Coucher du Soleil at Kings Place - concert review
- Engaging vitality: La Nuova Musica in Cavalli's La Calisto - concert review
- Re-discovering the saxhorn: The Celebrated Distin Family - CD review
- The American violin concerto: Tamsin Waley-Cohen plays Adams and Harris - CD review
- Radical re-invention: Joyce DiDonato in War & Peace - concert review
- RVW rarities: Purer than pearl from Albion Records - CD review
- Music for a Prussian salon: Boxwood and Brass - CD review
- Balanced musicality:Handel's Serse from Early Opera Company - opera review
- Infinite variety I chat to Anneke Scott about playing the French horn - interview
- High speed bravura: Gabriella di Laccio in Vivaldi and Handel - Cd review
- An important waypoint in British operatic history: Celebrating the 110th anniversary of Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers - feature article