The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Roberto Díaz (viola) Jeremy Denk (piano)
Composer: Brahms

Readers will probably be most familiar with Roberto Díaz as the ex-principal of both the Philadelphia and National Symphony Orchestras and as a former member of the Boston Symphony. On the evidence of this immaculately balanced recording, he is not only a gifted orchestral player but also an outstanding chamber musician. He captures the wistfully introspective atmosphere of the E flat major Sonata (no.2) with rare eloquence and sensitivity, never forcing his tone and magically conveying the music’s autumnal reflectiveness. The way he and his outstanding accompanist, Jeremy Denk, gently ease into the first movement’s codetta with a subtle relaxation of tempo is unforgettable.

No less revelatory is the transcription of the G major Violin Sonata, which here sounds for all the world like a viola original. Díaz is particularly effective in unfolding the long harmonic paragraphs of the opening movement and capturing the music’s nostalgic reflectiveness.

Some may find the F minor Sonata no.1 a shade underpowered compared to, say, Yuri Bashmet (Olympia, long deleted) or Lawrence Power (Hyperion), yet Díaz’s dynamic and phrasal sensitivity provide more than adequate compensation. There is no sense of the viola straining beyond its expressive capabilities but rather an exultant joy in its unique musical voice.