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Music for Two Violas
Peter Mallinson, Matthias Wiesner (viola)
Evgenia Startseva (piano): Oliver Lowe (triangle)
rec. July 2016, the church of St Edward the Confessor, London
MERIDIAN CDE84641 [58:36]

A recent encounter with violists Peter Mallinson and Matthias Wiesner (review) enabled me to catch up with their somewhat earlier two-viola disc that similarly paired British and Russian repertoire.

Dedicated to violists Harry Danks and John White, Gordon Jacob’s Sonatina of 1973 is a brisk three-movement affair full of his trademark flair and wit. Its breezy exchanges and rather lovely, folklorically-inclined slow movement, show his gift for compression and for sharp characterisation, which are topped by a darting fugal finale that tests co-ordination. It also embeds a rather forlorn B section to good effect. Rubbra’s very beautiful Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn ‘O Quando in Cruce’ was written for solo viola in 1962 but expanded to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the great Lionel Tertis in 1977 when it was played by Danks and John Coulling. Its expressive concentration is finely brought out by the violists, their vibratos well matched, and bow weight acutely measured. Their enjoyment of the lightly swinging panel, a dance patterned charmer, is admirable in every way. Frank Bridge was a violist as well as a composer and indeed made a number of recordings as an executant chamber player. His Lament was written for performance by himself and Tertis in 1912 and its grave deliberation is honoured here.

The biggest work in the recital is Fyodor Druzhinin’s Sinfonia a Due, composed between 1986 and 1987. Druzhinin replaced Vadim Borisovsky as violist in the Beethoven String Quartet and his duo has a gaunt, Shostakovich-like insistence, satiric in places, tersely reserved in others, and featuring tell-tale mocking figures that push the violists high. Full of incident, tensile and expressive, there are moments of almost hallucinatory force, not least in the rocking, uneasy tango gestures that lurch dissonantly and unexpectedly. A big, troubling work, dispatched with real authority. After this, we hear Borisovsky’s arrangements: two scenes from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – complete with triangle! – offer delightful reprieve, Pyotr Bulakhov’s famous Barcarolle preserve its vocal inspiration, and Khachaturian’s Waltz from Masquerade is a vibrant way to end this expertly recorded and engineered recital.

Throughout, when required, Evgenia Startseva is the resilient pianist and there’s a special bow to Oliver Lowe, the triangle player. Peter Mallinson’s booklet notes outline all the works with precision.

The programme interleaves the national schools to positive effect and once again the performances prove as adroit, incisive and sensitively phrased as the more recent disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Sonatina (1973) [7:05]
Fyodor DRUZHININ (1923-2007)
Sinfonia a Due (1986-87) [21:38]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn “O Quando in Cruce”, Op.117a (1962) [9:49]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Waltz from Masquerade (1941) arr. Vadim Borisovsky [4:12]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet; Morning Serneade [2:35]: Dance with Mandolines [2:09] arr. Vadim Borisovsky
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Lament (1912) [7:59]
Pyotr BULAKHOV (1822-1885)
Barcarolle (pub. 1950) arr. Vadim Borisovsky [3:08]

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