WALTON Viola Concerto BRUCH Kol Nidrei
When it comes to Walton’s Viola Concerto, surely the finest and most original of his string concertos, perhaps Markus Poschner’s Bamberg opening is just a little too reserved (although muted, violins and violas are marked forte), but the solo part is marked piano and that’s precisely how Nils Mönkemeyer performs it. Still, for me, both Maxim Vengerov with Rostropovich (Warner, 7/03) and Lars Anders Tomter with Paul Daniel (Naxos, 5/96) strike a more effective balance, even though the sforzando surges as cued by Poschner are played as written.
As the movement progresses, so the mood intensifies, and the skilfully wrought components of Walton’s marvellous score are extremely well captured by Sony’s engineers, both when full-throated and in its many quieter moments. Furthermore, we’re given the 1961 orchestration of the concerto, with its slimmed wind-writing and added harp. As annotator Jens F Laurson points out, Lawrence Power has recorded the 1929 version (Hyperion, 7/07), though that too comes with a premium recommendation.
This is exceptional viola-playing. Listen from 4'31" into the finale, for example, just prior to one of the concerto’s loveliest passages, and you’ll note Mönkemeyer’s mastery of his instrument throughout its range. As with Walton’s other two string concertos, Prokofiev is often an audible influence, by which I mean its wit, acerbity and sense of magic (9'23", where bass clarinet and viola so poignantly commune), and the bittersweet slant of its melodic writing, all beautifully realised here.
The couplings also work well. Fratres is the latest and mellowest addition to a series of versions focusing Arvo Pärt’s entrancing piece of musical stillness (this particular reworking dates from 2008). Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, originally for cello of course, enjoys its change of register and aside from the odd octave transposition could as well have been written for the viola, while as presented here the increasingly popular Romance is a model of interpretative tenderness. Altogether a most satisfying programme, one you could usefully supplement with Lawrence Power’s coupling of the Walton and Rubbra concertos.