“Viola altera”, or “proud viola”: I like the idea of presenting the viola in a heroic light but I’m not sure Màtè Szücs has gone about it in the best way. The viola repertory lacks the wide range of Romantic concertos and sonatas that violinists and cellists enjoy playing, as well as virtuoso music à la Paganini. I’m impressed that Szücs can play such taxing violin music so accurately on the viola but only rarely are the performances as effective as they would be on the violin. The quick sections in the Sarasate and in the Paganini Caprices inevitably seem more effortful, with sound that’s sometimes forced. Even Sarasate’s characteristic harmonics sparkle less on the viola. And it must be said that the extra difficulty of playing this music on the larger instrument leads occasionally to less-than-perfect intonation, for example in the double-stopped scales in Caprice No 4.
I enjoyed most the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, sounding spectacular on viola and cello (it’s originally for violin and viola). Szücs precedes this with another arrangement of Handel’s harpsichord piece, for solo viola. We’re not told the name of the arranger, nor the person responsible for the bowdlerised version of La campanella. Overall, I think Szücs could present the viola in a more noble light with 19th-century works intended for the instrument – Schumann, Vieuxtemps, Brahms, Joachim. Less flashy, but better suited to the viola’s nature.