The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Roger Chase (viola) BBC Concert Orchestra, Stephen Bell (conductor)
Composer: Bate, Vaughan Williams, Bell

William Henry Bell’s Rosa mystica is a three-movement viola concerto written in 1916, after the composer had settled in Cape Town as director of the South African College of Music. As an alumnus (and later teacher) of the Royal Academy of Music, Bell came in contact with Lionel Tertis, who was probably the inspiration for this and other viola pieces of Bell’s: the solo part certainly makes no concessions, making use of the instrument’s full range. The three movements are brilliantly and idiomatically orchestrated, with conspicuous use of the brass.

Stanley Bate’s Viola Concerto was written in the US, where the Plymouth-born composer was based during the 1940s. Composed with William Primrose in mind, it was eventually premiered by Emanuel Vardi in 1947. With its modally tinged melodic material, the piece openly acknowledges the influence of Bate’s teacher, Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as including the odd allusion to Walton’s Viola Concerto. This is an ambitious work – almost 40 minutes long – and one of a melancholic hue, for all its many virtuoso episodes.

Roger Chase – whose idiomatic orchestration of Vaughan Williams’s Romance is heard between the two larger compositions – proves an ideal advocate for this music’s highly Romantic idiom. Performing on the ‘Tertis’ Montagnana, he phrases eloquently and with the finest tonal quality even in the most extreme registers, and makes light of the most arduous 6ths or octaves passagework. The excellent orchestral contribution is well caught in a truthful recording, produced by violist Michael Ponder. Lewis Foreman’s informative annotations complete an indispensable issue for viola aficionados.   

Carlos María Solare