Brahams Viola, by Maxim Rysanov
This glorious two-disc set of what may be termed as fairly ordinary Brahams music where the central role is played the viola is the sort of music I can honestly say I am surprised I have not listened to before. As a violist  and as a fan of Brahms , I am almost obligated to listen to this sort of music. In listening to this music, which showed the characteristic blend between sixteenth and seventeenth century compositional skill and nineteenth century passionate and romantic expression, a blend that I must admit I appreciate on many levels and seek to emulate in my own life as well as my own artistry, I was struck by the fact that this was a well-made cd on every level. From the precision of the sound engineering to the technically skilled and emotionally resonant playing, this is the sort of album that everyone involved with can feel proud about, and precisely the sort of music that I would expect to hear on a public broadcasting station paid for in part by taxpayers like me. I do not consider that a bad thing–this is the sort of music I would pay to see, and being able to listen to it for free in my car while I direct it to the puzzlement of fellow drivers on the road is simply enjoyable.
For those who are not aware, Brahms wrote some pretty large scale music. As I mentioned earlier, the selections included here can be considered fairly “ordinary” Brahms, and many of the viola parts written were done so by Brahms as transcriptions for the usual clarinet solo parts. It should be noted that violists often do not have a great deal of good music written for them, and this music is definitely excellent material for the viola repertoire, if one has the skills to play it. Disc one contains eleven tracks: the four movements of the Sonata in F minor for clarinet/viola and piano, op. 120 no. 1 (allegro appassionato, andante un poco adagio, allegretto grazioso, and vivace), the three movements of the Sonata no.1 in G major, op. 78 arranged for the viola by Klengel and Rysanov (vivace ma non troppo, adadio, allegro molto moderato), and the four movements of the Trio in E flat major for horn/viola, violin, and piano, op. 40 (andante – poco piu animato, scherzo: allegro, adagio mesto, and finale: allegro con brio). The second disc contains seven tracks starting with the Sonata in E flat major for clarinet/viola and piano, op. 120 no. 1 (allegro amabile, allegro appassionato, and andante con moto – allegro non troppo) and then ending with the four movements of the Trio in A major for clarinet/viola, cello, and piano, op. 114 (allegro, adagio, andantino grazioso, and allegro). The musicianship throughout is solid: Ryzanov is in great form, and he is ably accompanied by Katya Apekisheva on piano on disc one and Jacob Katsnelson on piano on disc two, along with Boris Brovtsyn for the Violin sonata on disc one and Latvian Kristine Blaumane on cello for the trio on disc two.
So, what kind of people will like this album. Those who are partisans of the viola and who appreciate the underdog instrument of the string orchestra receiving its fair share of glory every once in a while will find this album wonderful on those grounds alone. Those who are fans of classical music in general or the orchestral works of Brahms in particular will also find much to enjoy–the playing here is tight and superb, the sound engineering is excellent, there is a huge variety in the dynamics, and plenty of passionate and emotional playing that is also technically brilliant. Not everyone will appreciate this album, but the music chosen is good enough, and the theme–music that centers on the viola–compelling enough to make this a worthwhile album to listen to for those few of us that are unabashed fans of or players of the viola. The music is both technically and emotionally demanding for the player, and Rysanov deserves a great deal of credit for pulling off this wonderful collection, as do the people who work with him to make this beautiful music.
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