HARBERG; WOLPERT Viola Concertos
Viola player Brett Deubner has had over 30 concertos written for him, several – as with the pair recorded here – by younger, up-and-coming composers, although the likes of Del Tredici, Danielpour, Lalo Schifrin and Samuel Adler have also composed for him. Deubner’s strong tone, especially in the thinner upper register, is notably exploited in these two concertos, but the warmth and body of texture he draws from his instrument makes compelling listening of whatever he is playing, as, for example, in the opening measures of Elegy (2007) by Amanda Harberg (b1973), originally composed for violin and piano but arranged by Harberg here for string-orchestral accompaniment.
Harberg’s Viola Concerto (2011 12) is broadly conventional in design and tonal language. The opening Allegro maestoso was inspired by the idea of flight, not least of eagles, and I will leave to your imagination the implications of a Lark Ascending-like passage two-thirds through. The central Aria is, in Harberg’s words, ‘a meditation on the fragility of life’ – its unbroken outpouring of gentle melody beautifully sustained – while the celebratory Allegro spiritoso makes for a rousing conclusion. Harberg’s music, resounding with inferences of many American colleagues of the past 100 years, is imaginatively structured and orchestrated; an attractive package overall.
Max Wolpert (b1993) classifies himself as a ‘fiddler, composer and storyteller’, and his bracing First Viola Concerto Giants (2015) is for me the real find here, three engaging and vivid depictions of ‘Father Time’, ‘The Golden Harp’ – of the self-playing variety often found in giants’ castles in myth – and the roof-raising final ‘Dance of the Cloud Women’, their clouds evidently rooted over the Balkans. Viola concertos were never like this! Fine performances, good sound, terrific fun.