“Enigma” = HINDEMITH: Viola (Solo) Sonata, Op. 25, No. 1; MIKHAIL KUGEL: Prelude-Ysaye; Sonata-Poeme; STRAVINSKY: Elegy; BACH/ KODALY: Chromatic Fantasy; VIEUXTEMPS: Capriccio from Op. 55; PENDERECKI: Cadenza; KREISLER/KUGEL): Recitativo-Scherzo – Dana Zemtsov, viola – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 35714, 57:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

I remember years ago when it was almost impossible to find any albums with viola, let alone a solo release! When Pinchas Zukerman released his Columbia recording of Baroque viola concertos (now a classic) the thrills just wouldn’t stop; though violists refused to believe that a mere violin player could tackle their instrument with such passion, technique, and unbelievably rich tonal opulence, most rejoiced. At least a barrier had been broken, and we could all look forward to something besides the miscellaneous album with Walter Trampler or another “name” violist being included as part of an ensemble or as the occasional filler.

But it’s a new day today, and up and coming sensation Dana Zemtsov has given us a fine album that never dulls, never bores, and shows just how rich the instrument really is—and all this without an accompanist. The pieces here save two—the opening and closing numbers by Kreisler and Bach—were all written for the instrument, and show just how versatile it can be both technically and emotionally. Most of the pieces are fittingly on the “dark” side, as the very nature of the instrument lends itself to a burnished tonal foundation, but the technical aspects cannot be denied. All one has to do is listen to the marvelous Hindemith Sonata, or Penderecki’s 1984 Cadenza (an addendum to his Concerto, written just a year earlier), or the Kugel Sonata-Poeme to understand just how wide-ranging the viola—so often hidden in the inner harmonic recesses of the orchestra—can perform.

As I have mentioned umpteen times, surround sound is a perfect vehicle for solo instruments, and so the case is made here, with Channel’s superb engineering coming to the fore and manifesting Zemtsov’s amazing playing and beautiful tone with depth and luxuriant resonance. This is well worth the outlay, and I suspect that not a few people will come away with a new aural image of the viola ingrained in their minds.

—Steven Ritter