The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Welcome new versions of much-recorded repertoire
Musicians: Rachel Roberts (viola) Lars Vogt (piano)
Composer: Brahms, Schumann

It takes some courage to add yet another version of this over-recorded coupling to the lists, but from the first bars of the piano introduction, this recording commands attention: Lars Vogt plays with an authority that bodes well for the following hour. His partnership with Rachel Roberts is a closely knit one, honed over many years of Vogt’s Spannungen chamber music festival, at which the violist is a frequent guest.

The Brahms sonatas were, of course, conceived for the clarinet, and the composer was never really happy with his own viola versions, in which he obviously felt constrained by the instrument’s real or imagined limitations in the upper range. Most players go back at least in part to the clarinet original, especially in the E flat major Second Sonata, where the solo line’s relationship with the keyboard would otherwise be distorted, and so does Roberts, for whom – needless to say – no such limitations exist: she soars lyrically high up the A-string with a beautifully expressive tone, offering countless felicities of phrasing along the way. A couple of unusual tempo choices came as a surprise, but – as Otto Klemperer said – one gets used to them. The realistic recording is ideally balanced, with the viola nicely embedded in the piano sound.

Carlos María Solare