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Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart & C Stamitz

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata arr. for viola and piano; Beethoven's Two Romances arr. for viola and piano, Ops 40/50;
Mozart's Duo for violin and viola in G; and Stamitz's Concerto for viola and orchestra in D, Op 1

Eniko Magyar, viola
with Giovanni Guzzo, violin, (Tadashi Imai, piano) and Ensemble Fioriollo

St John's, Smith Square November 19, 2009

This Hungarian violist (a nicer photo of whom we have removed on request !!) relocated to the Royal Academy of Music in London, can be heard to advantage on her website, and she has produced an impressive disc of English music composed - or adapted - for viola.

But there's the rub; she needs to explore more fully the growing original repertoire.

The first half of the recital at was disappointing, partly because of a necessary change from the advertised pianist to a deputy (there was no insert in our programme).

But more so because the Arpeggione is tricky to bring off at best, and this cautious account lacked character; maybe the playing was too "careful" because the concert was being recorded...

The two Beethoven Romances (for violin and orchestra) don't make a good pairing.

Things improved after the interval with the best music-making, a good performance of a Mozart duo; but Eniko should be careful not to hide behind a too-high music stand !

That was followed by a pleasant enough, but really inconsequential, concerto by Carl, one of the composer sons of Mannheim composer Johann Stamitz. It was accompanied by colleagues from London's Royal Academy and Royal College. The concerto's several cadenzas gave opportunities to hear Eniko Magyar's mellow tone on her own.

CD: Bliss, Delius & Bridgeen

Eniko Magyar, viola with Tadashi Imai, piano

Naxos 8.572407

Eniko Magyar's Naxos debut disc of English music with pianist Tadashi Imai makes a far better impression, but here again note that the Delius is a transcription from a violin sonata, and of seven Bridge pieces, only two were originally for viola.

Peter Grahame Woolf


What use melody?

Enikő Magyar, viola Timothy End, piano

Delius – Violin Sonata no.3 (arr. L. Tertis)
Patterson – Tides of Mananan
Bridge – Short Pieces
Wilson – Mürrische Erde, wp
Bliss – Sonata

St John’s, Smith Square, 2 December 2009

The tone of the viola, fuller and darker than the violin’s, is an obvious draw for composers, but it is its range, closer to that of the human voice, that recommends it as a consummately melodic instrument. Even its famous appearances in contemporary music (one thinks of Feldman, or Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques) remain essentially lyrical.

Enikő Magyar’s recital focused on British 20th-century repertoire for the instrument in which melody was very much to the fore. The viola writing in the two substantial sonatas by Delius and Bliss that framed the concert takes all the usual roles of providing form and direction although, in both cases, the melodies themselves aren’t always strongly characterised.

A collection of Frank Bridge’s short encore pieces for viola and piano allowed more space within the music for a modern interpretation to come through. For all melody’s primacy it is revealing to hear past it into the accompaniment. Melody then comes to sound like an architectural support, a canvas stretched above something stranger and more fragile. Bridge stayed just the right side of sentimental thanks in particular to Timothy End’s piano playing, which had an acute sensitivity to attack and dynamic that sharpened, focused and grounded in present reality Bridge’s the potentially mushy viola lines.

The two newer works were more fragmentary. Patterson’s piece, an evocation of the magical Manx and Irish hero Mananan, illustrated its subject through a compendium of viola effects that held together, I think, by some underlying consistency of harmony. Wilson’s piece is, essentially, a transcription of the solo part from Sullen earth, for violin and orchestra, a piece I have written sleevenotes for. Without the orchestra gluing the disparate elements of the solo line together one might expect Mürrische Erde to run into problems. On the contrary. Maybe it was a consequence of hearing the piece live (something that hasn’t been possible with Sullen earth). No doubt it was something to do with Magyar’s performance – which in this piece found an electrifying delicacy – but for me it worked even better. My lasting impression was of half-developed photographs hung on a line, and a cold draft blowing. There are, beneath the surface fragmentation of this score, fragile connections in terms of favoured intervals, rhythms and figurations. The components of melody, in fact. But at what point does melody stretch too far and break like a string of pearls? Just as one wonders whether Wilson has crossed that line, he introduces the simplicity of a medieval French folk tune, which Magyar played absolutely straight. As, in that moment, everything mystifyingly came together, you could have heard a pin drop.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson The Rambler