MELA TENENBAUM–Viola recital

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Violists who play solo recitals naturally depend on transcriptions and arrangements (often of works originally for violin or cello) to fill the bulk of their programs. Original viola/piano or pure solo viola repertoire is notoriously skimpy (but so is bassoon/piano, trumpet/piano, or even cello/piano, but no one ever seems to make that point). Here, rather than just plow the same old repertoire fields yet another time, Mela Tenenbaum (who also has a respectable career as a violinist, with numerous recordings on this same label) and her frequent pianist partner Richard Kapp offer a rich and rewarding program loaded with unusual stuff, from a Bach/Vivaldi organ concerto movement, a wild Mussorgsky “Hopak” and Brahms “Scherzo” to three richly romantic pieces (and perfect viola vehicles) by Liadov, Debussy’s “Beau soir”, Fauré’s “Après un rêve”, and William Primrose’s arrangement of Villa-Lobos’ “Aria” from Bachianas Brasileras No. 5. There are even a couple of actual real live original works for viola–Chausson’s Pièce pour alto et piano Op. 39 and Vieuxtemps’ Capriccio for viola from Hommage à Paganini Op. 9. Highlights include Kapp’s own arrangement of the Mazas Etude No. 19 and Carl Bohm’s Perpetuo mobile, where terms such as finger facility and sautillé/spiccato are brought to vivid life in Tenenbaum’s competent, virtuosic hands. It’s also thrilling to hear how the violist finds the true Gypsy heart of the two Brahms Hungarian Dances (Nos. 2 and 3)–spontaneous and uninhibited, dramatic with an exciting touch of recklessness.

There’s lots of music here that successfully exploits the darker, reedier areas of the viola’s timbre, but the programmatic choices are intelligently made to engage our full attention throughout the 57-minute recital. Sometimes I wished for a more meaty tone and more assertive interpretive style–but just as quickly Tenenbaum dispelled such thoughts, as in her profoundly commanding conquest of the Brahms “Scherzo”, a transcription of the movement originally written for the famous “F-A-E” violin sonata. No, there’s no worry about dull moments here; you can expect an entertaining and musically rewarding hour, recorded with sensitivity to instrumental timbres and whose balances are weighted (sometimes too favorably) toward the viola.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: MELA TENENBAUM--Viola recital

Works and transcriptions by Bach, Granados, Mussorgsky, Chausson, Brahms, Liadov, Debussy, Massenet, Villa-Lobos, Kapp, others -

  • Mela Tenenbaum (viola)
    Richard Kapp (piano)

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