Dana Zemtsov: Enigma
There are points in Dana Zemtsov’s performance of Michael Kugel’s Sonata-Poème where her double-stopping is so perfectly tuned, so varied in colour and with such considerable distances in the intervals between the notes that you would be forgiven for thinking it sounded more like a chamber orchestra or, at least, a string quartet than simply a single viola playing more than one note at once. Kugel is himself a viola player (and Zemtsov’s teacher), and it is notable in this fascinating and excitingly varied programme that the works in which he has had some hand all display tone colours, stretches and intervals that are unique and distinctly different to those associated with the violin. This includes his work on Kodaly’s transcription of the Bach Chromatic Fantasy, which the 22-year-old Zemtsov plays with extraordinarily mature musicality. Most importantly, though, her performance of Hindemith’s Viola Sonata – one of the most important pieces in the instrument’s solo repertoire – is as insightful and subtly nuanced as any of the best available examples in the catalogue (it is not without its flashes of bravery, either – most notably in one or two of her tempo choices).
‘Enigma’ is not a collection of the most jocular pieces – the viola isn’t an inherently cheerful instrument – but there is no doubt that it leaves the listener with as much enjoyment of what they have just heard as a lack of understanding why the the viola is so overlooked as a solo instrument. At the very least, this disc is a compilation of hidden gems; at the very best, a snapshot of a great artist at the start of her career.