The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: A viola disc exploring the more elegiac side of Russian music
Musicians: Gérard Caussé (viola) Brigitte Engerer (piano)
Composer: Shostakovich, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff

Paraphrasing Stravinsky’s famous description of Rachmaninoff, this CD could be described as ‘60 minutes of Russian gloom’. Gérard Caussé’s selection of predominantly slow pieces – with one exception all in the minor mode – and the deep, dark timbre of his 1560 Gasparo da Salò viola could prove too much for delicate souls if taken in one go. In smaller doses, however, there is much to enjoy in it.

In Glazunov’s Elegy, Caussé is uncommonly eloquent, eschewing all-purpose legato in favour of an almost parlando kind of playing. Similarly, Shostakovich’s Sonata is given a most intense reading, albeit somewhat at the expense of the rhythmic clarity that was so important to the composer. Caussé and Brigitte Engerer don’t always see eye to eye regarding rubato, but the icy sul ponticello effects and Shostakovich’s trademark glissandos are convincingly realised.

In between these two viola pieces come uncredited arrangements of music by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. The transcriptions are straightforward, giving the tune to the viola most of the time, and the pieces have been transposed to convenient keys. I can’t avoid a feeling of disappointment that the transcriptions by Vadim Borisovsky, which always show an extra bit of imagination in their treatment of both instruments, haven’t been used instead. The CD is recorded very closely, but once a good setting has been found, the sound is extremely vivid.


Carlos María Solare