Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do not adjust your speakers!

I don't know why my world is suddenly all about violas, but I have an upcoming concert where I'll be playing Brahms' two heavenly songs for contralto, viola, and piano. It's been about 15 years since I last played them and I'd forgotten how beautiful they are, even if the viola steals all the good stuff the pianist might otherwise get to do. The only recording I owned turned out to be disappointing, in spite of its historical promise. It features the legendary Marian Anderson along with the legendary William Primrose on viola and the legendary William Kapell on piano. Well, they say William Kapell is playing the piano, but the recording is mixed so badly that the piano is barely audible - meanwhile, the 1941 audio technology does nothing to flatter Anderson or Primrose, each of whom sound much more strident tonally than they could possibly have really sounded. The performances are also on the stodgy side for my tastes. [Confession: I have trouble hearing through the limitations of historic recordings. I rarely like them as much as other enthusiasts.]

So, I went searching for something more helpful, if less historic, and ended up downloading recordings by the wonderful Angelika Kirchschlager, with Helmut Deutsch on piano and the highly regarded Yuri Bashmet on viola. It's pretty much just what I wanted, but you know there's a viola joke in here somewhere, right? As it happens, just at a moment when I'm playing part of the second song for my wife to show her how beautiful it is, Bashmet suddenly makes a remarkably inelegant landing on what eventually becomes a F-sharp. On repeated listening, I have to admit it's not as bad as it first seemed, but the point is that we both reacted immediately - and my wife had never even heard the song before. Just one of those inevitable viola moments that apparently even state-of-the-art engineers couldn't hide.

Downloading Kirchschlager's recordings of Brahms' Op.91 songs: $1.98 on

Downloading the Sheet Music: $0.00 on

Hearing a world-class violist play like, well, a violist: priceless!

[NOTE: The "priceless" moment occurs about 10 seconds in on that mp3, p.13 of the score. Meanwhile, as you can see, I've been inspired by Rivinus - and Bashmet - to do a little viola distorting of my own. UPDATE: If you click on the viola above, you can watch the distorting in action.]

[Oh, and don't forget this little bit of
viola humor that features Primrose himself.]

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