American Record Guide

Passion of Bliss, Bowen, & Bridge
BOWEN: Fantasie Quartet for 4 Violas; Melody on the G String; Rhapsody; BRIDGE: Lament for 2 Violas; BLISS: Sonata
Doris Lederer, Dariusz Korcz, Jennifer Cassin, Franklin Shaw, va; Bruce Murray, p
Centaur 2692_[64 minutes]

This is a wonderful release that expands my understanding of the effect that Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) had on British composers.
I'ld never even heard of violist-composer York Bowen (1884-1961) before I heard this, but I can guarantee I'll never forget him now. (We reviewed his viola sonata twice, in May/June 2003 and Sept/Oct 2004. -Ed) The most remarkable composition on this record is his Quartet for four violas. Even the most committed violaphile must now be thinking that this has got tob be one off the tonally most monotonous works in the repertoire- I expected that myself- but, lo and behold, that is not at all the case. When you think about it, Bowen only deprives himself of the bottom octave of the cello and the top fifth of the violin of a traditional string quartet if he exploits the full range of the viola, which he does. Composed in 1909, it abounds in chromatic harmonies and employs an impressionist range of tone color. A compositional tour de force. Bowen's other works here are not quite as satisfying, but they are still pleasing.
Frank Bridge (1879-1941), another violist-composer, wrote the Elegy for two violas in 1912 for himself and Tertis. Its sound world is no less varied and satisfying than Bowen's Quartet.
The major work hiere is the Viola Sonata of Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), written in 1933, Bliss was wounded and lost a brother in WW I, and the Sonata shows some of the emotional pain he must have felt, especially in the remarkable coda to the finale.
I know what you're thinking now. “Did they get together four violists good enough to do justice to the music”” The answer is, “You bet!” The players have gorgeous sounds, both individually and in ensemble, and intonation is only rarely a problem when the writing ascends far above the staff. On top of it all, it has all been wonderfully recorded. All viola lovers should snatch up this disc.
July/August 2005
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