• Deubner Performs New Music for Viola

    Violist looking to explore new repertoire will be well-served by checking out a couple of recent releases from Navona featuring Brett Deubner.  The internationally-known soloist debuted with the New Jersey Symphony performing a new piece written for him by Lalo Schifrin.  He has performed with numerous orchestras throughout the world and currently teaches at Queen's College in New York City.  He is a frequent performer at the Round Top Music Festival in Texas as well.

    Stanley Grill: Remember (Navona NV 6338)

    Those coming to Stanley Grill's music for the first time will be struck by its innate beauty.  His music has a gentle lyricism that is particularly well-suited for the viola's warm timbre.  This comes to the forefront in the opening title work, Remember (5 Intermezzi for Earth) which features five reflective movements.  In O, Mystery!, Grill provides echoes of ancient music with more modal inflections and a spun-out idea that grows into a more energetic central section before stepping back in awe.  The centerpiece here is also the most substantial work running just under 20 minutes.  Aphorisms II opens with a gorgeous romantic line that will morph into new ideas in a more stream-of-conscious piece of different slightly-connected episodes.  It is in one sense like a train of thought that leads from one moment to the next, sometimes reflective, sometimes more impassioned.  All couched in traditional musical language that makes it quite accessible and a welcome addition to the repertoire for the instrument.  More angular righting coupled with folkish gestures appears in the three-movement In Memory.  The outer movements provide some interesting rhythmic and virtuosic material with a somber central movement for contrast.  Finally, there are 2 quite stunning movements in Civil War Songs.  The first is a set of variations on "Ashokan Farewell".  Grill's style here is quite in keeping with traditional Americana harmonic styles with a bit of modernism against the lyrical, familiar tune from the Ken Burn's PBS series.  The second movement is a setting of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".  This is a rather gorgeous collection of music for viola that features some equally fine committed performances.  Thomas Steigerwald serves as the accompanist here making for an equal interpretive partner.

    Mother Earth: Works for Viola and Piano (Navona NV 6351) 

    Deubner's second album incorporates several works written and some other contemporary pieces.  Two 1970s works by Arvo Part are perhaps the more "familiar" of the works here.  The album includes the meditative Fratres (1977, with its chant-like style) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) which will wrap up the album with a final reflective bent.  After a very brief opening work by Polina Nazaykinskaya (For Zayd and Zizi, 2017), Deubner turns to the first work written for him.  Samarthana (2020) is a musical response by Johan Hugosson to the Nepalese earthquake in 2015.  It is a musical moment that invites listeners to reflect on this devastation.  Judith Markovich's Remember, also from 2020, is a result of the recent pandemic and is another chance to look back on important moments in our lives.  It is interesting as well for its addition of a chime to the texture.  Amanda Harberg's Loss (2007) moves us to a more poignant musical language to contemplate the death of someone dear (in this case it was written after the death of her piano teacher). The album takes its title from Maurizio Bignone's 2017 piece.  Programmatically, it serves to connect the other pieces here to our own recent pandemic lockdown and how the earth rejuvenates itself when humanity is somewhat removed from contributing to any number of harmful activities.  Here it helps provide another moment to think about how we might move forward as we return to a new normal.  Stone Rose (2014) is a three-movement work that depicts different aspects of New York according to its composer Ola Gjeilo.  That makes this an interesting companion to these pandemic-related works with that city being one of the American epicenters.  Performances here are excellent and Allison Brewster Franzetti serves as a quite able accompanist for these contemporary reflections on the world and our own place and interaction with it.  The program invites us to contemplate how we respond to these senses of destruction, loss, and connect it to our own stories.  Certainly an interesting collection to explore.

  • Chilean Viola Music


    Mobili: Music for Viola and Piano from Chile
    Georgina Isabel Rossi, viola.  Silvie Cheng, piano.
    New Focus FCR268
    Total Time:  69:02
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Mobili takes its title from a significant work by Juan Orrego-Salas (1919-2019) that anchors this collection of music for viola by Chilean composers.  Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi’s program is a blend of works from the 1960s and the 21st Century exploring work by six composers.  Rossi is a Chilean-born performer who has performed throughout the Americas and is currently a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.  She is joined here by Silvie Cheng who is known for her championing of new music and has recorded with her brother on the audite label.

    The program is organized with the opening five works being shorter pieces and the larger multi-movement work serving as the conclusion with a brief encore-like piece to wrap things off.  Two pieces by Rafael Diaz (b.1962) open the album.  The first of these, Habra alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (2009), is for amplified viola and uses a prayer-like folk melody from the Andes’ indigenous Pewenche people.  The arc of the piece is related to the “sonorities” of prayer and opens with a ascending cry that will shift to a more lyrical, contemplative section.  The outlines of the viola line suggest landscapes and there are musical gestures to also indicate bird calls.  The Chilean landscape also informs Diaz’s In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges (2013).  The composer’s ethnomusicological exploration of indigenous music is also present in this work.

    The earliest work on the album is Carlos Botto’s (1923-2004) Fantaisie, Op, 15 (1962).  His work is among those combining modernist tendencies and references to more traditional forms and genres, of which this work is a fine example.  The open piano harmonies provide a careful underpinning of the almost romantic-like emotion of the solo line that moves into more intense segments as the motives of the piece are unpacked and explored in the work which has an excellent dramatic engagement whose episodic nature allows for a variety of challenges to overcome.  Federico Heinlein (1912-1999) counts among his teachers Nadia Boulanger.  His output focuses on poetic settings with the instrumental works often referencing poetry.  That is the case for his Duo “Do Not Go Gentle” (1985) which takes inspiration from a Dylan Thomas poem.  There are some really beautiful, folk-like romantic lines that provide a warm, emotional core to this music.   Tololo (2011) wraps up this first part of the program.  Originally for viola and string orchestra, this David Cortes (b. 1985) work takes its inspiration from the home of an important observatory on Mount Tololo.  The music follows the imagination of seeing through a telescope with its ability to see far and zoom in for new detail.

    Mobili, Op. 63 is a four-movement work by Orrego-Salas (1967).  The first movement has a sparse piano accompaniment and focuses on a long, lyrical line that grows slowly upward.  The piano tends to provide signposts and will then revisit the material from the solo line, expanding the harmonic tension.  “Discontinuo” is a contrasting movement of jagged and angular writing.  Interaction between the soloist becomes heightened here adding to a sense of unease that keeps things on edge.  In “Ricorrente”, seems to blend a seeking out and have a veiled reference to ricercare, with its somewhat staggered commentary between the soloist and piano.  The motivic idea introduced is expanded and explored between the two which sometimes come together.  The longest movement of the four, it seems to also hold a stronger emotional core which is mined well here by Rossi.  Things are wrapped up with a brilliant “Perpetuo” movement to provide more technical and virtuosic challenges.

    As a bonus track, the program concludes with a transcription of the song El Sampredrino (1968) by the composer often called the Argentinean Schubert, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000).  His music fits into the more folk-inspired styles (a la Ginastera) with nods to the post-romantics.  It makes for a touching conclusion.

    While the music here tends toward more modernist contemporary qualities, the expressiveness of these pieces is captured beautifully by Rossi who navigates these moments of lyricism with beautiful playing.  Her articulation for the rapid passage moments also works to aid the dramatic contrasts of the pieces on this program.  The careful placement of these works also gradually expands the tonal palette so that the ear adjusts to the open, modern harmonies.  When the music introduces a more romantic-tinged line, they stand out in stunning contrast to the quartal/quintal harmonic piano accompaniment which is handled equally well by Cheng.  Perhaps it is the warm tone of the viola which also makes this album further inviting and certainly worth a look for those interested in expanding their musical world.  Sound quality is excellent with a perfect balance of soloist and piano, both imaged well in the sonic picture.  The piano has a nice warm quality with just enough ambience to warm things up and keep them from being to dry.  This is due as much to the excellent performances that are captured in this fine release.