Gramophone

BAX . BOWEN
Bax Viola Sonata Bowen Viola Sonata No. 1 Phantasy
Doris Lederer vla Jane Coop pf
Centaur CRC 2660 (68' DDD)
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BLISS . BOWEN . BRIDGE
Bliss Viola Sonata,T52 Bowen Fantasie Quartet
Melody for the G String. Rhapsody Bridge Lament
Doris Lederer, Dariusz Korcz, Jennifer Cassin,
Franklin Shaw vas Bruce Murray pf
Centaur CRC 2692 (64' DDD)

Bowen: Sonata, Phantasy -selected comparison:
Boyd, Forsberg (7/03) (DUTT) CDLX7126

Off-the-beaten-track listening for Anglophiles and viola aficionados alike
Written in 1921-22 for Lionel Tertis, Bax's masterly Viola Sonata shows the composer at the peak of his powers, its demonic central Scherzo framed by a touching tightly knit opening movement and slumberingly intense Molto lento finale. Having been comparatively underwhelmed by the partnership of Medici Quartet viola player Ivo-Jan van der Werff and Simon Marlow on Koch Classics (1/02), it's good to be able to bestow a more positive reception to Doris Lederer's altogether more emotionally candid and imaginatively shaped reading, which has the benefit of a highly idiomatic and personable contribution from the fine Canadian pianist Jane Coop. In fact, my only gripe of note is that, as captured by the microphones, the piano tone is inclined to harden under pressure; otherwise, this represents a very useful addition to the Bax discography.

Tertis was also the inspiration behind all of York Bowen's viola music. Lederer and Coop give us the glorious (and often jaw droppingly virtuoso) Cobbett Prize-winning Phantasy of 1918, as well as the 20-year-old composer's First Sonata from 1905 (whose exuberant concluding Presto emerges as a close cousin to the finale of his 1907 Viola Concerto). In both works I find little to choose between these newcomers and the similarly scrupulous and shapely performances by James Boyd and Bengt Forsberg.

There's plenty more Bowen on the companion disc, the most eyebrow-raising item being the Fantasie Quartet for four violas, whose considerable technical demands (not least some scarily vertiginous writing for the leader) are confidently met by Lederer and her three colleagues. Bowen joined Tertis and two others for the January 1910 premiere. Just over two years later, in London's Aeolian (now Wigmore) Hall, it was the turn of another composer/viola player, Frank Bridge, to partner Tertis in the first performance of his Lament for two violas, a deeply felt, resourcefully argued colloquy, eloquently served by Lederer and Dariusz Korcz.

Elsewhere, Lederer and pianist Bruce Murray forge a sympathetic alliance in Bowen's toothsome Melody for the G String and Rhapsody (the latter dating from as late as 1955). A very capable showing they make, too, in Bliss's imposing 1933 Sonata. Again, the sound may hardly be in the luxury class but the music-making is consistently sympathetic, and both these Centaur anthologies possess many sterling virtues.

Andrew Achenbach
December 2006
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