The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Milhaud: Quatre visages op.238, Viola Concerto no.1 op.108. Ysaÿe: Solo Cello Sonata op.28 (arr. viola). Hindemith: Solo Viola Sonata op.25 no.1
Tuesday, 01 December 2009
Susanne van Els (viola) Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) Schönberg Ensemble/Reinbert de Leeuw
Milhaud, Ysaÿe, Hindemith
Etcetera KTC 1395.
This imaginatively planned CD begins and ends with nicely lilting performances of two of Milhaud’s Quatre visages, its centrepiece being the composer’s First Viola Concerto. Both compositions bring out the best qualities in Susanne van Els’s playing. She suggests West Coast snugness in ‘La californienne’ and cosmopolitan chic in ‘La parisienne’, and manages to imbue the concerto’s bustling rhythms with a modicum of songful sweetness. Van Els is a tad too closely balanced, which obscures some orchestral detail, but not seriously so. With Reinbert de Leeuw in charge, the performance is tightly knit.
Conversely, in the two unaccompanied pieces van Els is way too indulgent, loading the music with a rubato that makes its shape very hard to understand. This is a first recording of Ysaÿe’s Cello Sonata in a viola version (apparently the composer tried it out on the viola himself). Contemporaneous with Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonatas op.27, the piece breathes the same faux-Baroque air and uses similar hot-house harmonies.
Hindemith’s Sonata is taken at very slow speeds. There are some sins of omission in the (in)famous ‘Wild’ movement and a glaring (but frequently encountered) misreading in the final one. On the plus side is some eloquent playing by van Els on her beautiful-sounding Testore, truthfully recorded.
Carlos María Solare
From the December 2009 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.