Emanuel Vardi: In Memoriam = Works of PARTOS; HINDEMITH; COLGRASS; SERLY; & WALTON – Cembal d'amour

by | Aug 6, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Emanuel Vardi: In Memoriam = PARTOS: Yizkor; HINDEMITH: Trauermusik; COLGRASS: Variations for Four Drums and Viola; SERLY: Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra with Percussion; WALTON: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra – Emanuel Vardi, viola/Michael Colgrass, percussion/MGM String Orchestra/Isler Solomon (Partos, Hindemith)/Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Tibor Serly/American Broadcasting Symphony/Joseph Stopak – Cembal d’amour CD 159, 75:02 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
More than a “mere” viola player, Emanuel Verdi (1915-2011) enjoyed a seventy-year career that embraced work in the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini; ensemble work with the Stuyvesant, Guilet, Mischakoff, and Navy String Quartets; and conductor of the Concertmasters of New York, the Adelphi Orchestra, and the South Dakota Symphony. Collectors may recall that Mr. Vardi served as a producer for Audio Fidelity Records. Painfully aware of the dearth of repertory available for the viola, Vardi encouraged contemporary composers to write for his instrument, and he worked to unearth previously ignored compositions–such as the sonata by Alessandro Rolla, Paganini’s teacher–for popular dissemination and performance.
Producer Mordecai Shehori–whose label brought out Vardi’s wickedly challenging recording of the complete Paganini Caprices on the viola (CD 129)–offers a generous cross-section of Vardi’s performances, 1943-1976. The Yizkor (In Memoriam) of Odeon Partos (1907-1977) takes its cues from the Jewish liturgy and the music of Ernest Bloch, the throaty declamations of the viola against the string orchestra (rec. 1957) highly reminiscent of equally inflamed–and poignantly modal–meditation in Bloch’s Schelomo for Cello and Orchestra. The major conceit, “May God remember” involves the living as well as the dearly departed, since the prayer–offered four times yearly–invokes the spirit of charity and good human service. Coincidentally, Partos was an Israeli violist of note, having served as first violist in the Israel Philharmonic.
The four-movement Trauermusik (1936) of Paul Hindemith coincides with his preparation of The Swan-Turner for a London performance. It also celebrates the passing of Britain’s King George V, and Hindemith claimed that he wrote the piece in a matter of six hours, after “some intense mourning.” A fine violist himself, Hindemith exploits the chromatically expressive range of the instrument in lachrymose tones that include a direct quote of the Lutheran chorale “Here I stand before Thy throne,” upon which the solo instrument plays expressive riffs. The 1957 with Isler Solomon–from the same MGM recording as the Partos–casts a plangent and valedictory glow on our mortal thoughts.
Vardi and composer Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) collaborate in the Variations for Four Drums and Viola (1959), a piece that likely bears the influences of studies with Ben Weber and Wallingford Riegger. Vardi commissioned the work, and the two premiered the piece at the Five Spot Café in New York City.  The relatively small shallow drums are called roto-toms that can embrace a chromatic line between middle C and E-flat below. Sticks and hands are utilized to perform on these roto-toms. The seven sections open with a parlando or recitative introduction, followed by variants that demand all sorts of virtuosic effects–ponticello, non vibrato, pizzicato, harmonics, and muting–from the viola. The Andante agitato section looks to violin riffs we hear in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Colgrass’ work in jazz inserts itself into the rhythmic mix, although by the finale, we feel something of Beethoven’s Ninth and the Berlioz Harold in Italy, in that riffs from previous movements appear in the formation of the finale’s ultimately explosive conclusion.
Tibor Serly (1901-1978) was a disciple of Kodaly, a violist and editor whose efforts on behalf of Bartok often obscured his own creative powers. Serly composed the Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra between 1955-1958. Vardi and Serly (rec. 1976) imbue its two movements with an exotic energy, the Improvisamente section rife with interjections from winds and percussion in marcato style that carry a neo-Classical, Stravinsky color. The violin itself strums and plucks notes as much as it utters arco passages. The movement ends in high but serene register. The extended second movement Serly labels “Dance Concertino: Allegro leggier.” It opens as a scherzo or rondo with stuttered upward scales in the violin and twittery woodwinds. The music becomes thicker and more martial in character, the color darker.  The middle section exploits the violin’s low register, though a flute tries to compensate with some aerial motifs that raise the solo’s spirits. The military impulse prevails, inviting quasi-cadenza episodes from Vardi. The last of these has a jazzy accompaniment that pipes and chirps along into a major mode that leads to tripping, abrupt coda.
William Walton wrote his Viola Concerto in 1929 (rev. 1961) for Lionel Tertis who refused the debut, which went to Paul Hindemith. The Vardi performance we hear–in somewhat distant sonics–is a wartime effort (1943) with Joseph Stopak. Several commentators note the similarity in style of the Walton Concerto to the D Major Violin Concerto of Prokofiev, which Walton openly admired. Vardi plays the difficult solo part with breezy facility, the low counterpoint with the oboe and flute of the first movement’s close quite vivid. The second movement hustles in syncopated motion, a high-energy romp that keeps everyone on his musical toes. We wish there might be definition for the barking brass and frenetic woodwind parts. The Allegro moderato treats three themes–the first introduced by a spirited bassoon with the viola–in a learned manner, culminating in a final fugue. Walton does not mind using a theme from his first movement in tandem with a plaintive melody from this Allegro. Vardi’s bravura performance makes the solo part fleet and muscular, the technical demands present, but simply absorbed by a master craftsman into a higher unity.
— Gary Lemco

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