Session Report: Timothy Ridout on recording the Elgar Cello Concerto for viola

DSC_4931 c. Jiyang Chen

British violist Timothy Ridout speaks to Carlos María Solare about adapting and recording the Elgar Cello Concerto

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Most appropriately for a Royal Academy of Music alumnus – and first prize winner of the 2016 Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition – Timothy Ridout evinces an evident affinity for the repertoire created and propagated by that British viola pioneer. When we meet over Zoom to discuss his latest recording, which features Tertis’s viola arrangement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, it’s been nine months since the sessions took place and Ridout hasn’t revisited the album since approving the masters several months ago. ‘I took the Tertis version as a starting point,’ he explains, ‘but made several changes to it. Some were prompted by the experience of having played the piece twice live in concert, while others were made in advance, because I just couldn’t see the point of a change made by Tertis, and thus went back to the original. We even recorded a couple of passages in two different ways, so we could decide later which one to use. Sometimes I was so torn between two solutions that I don’t even remember which one ended up on the CD!’

A case in point is the end of the Adagio: in its original form, this movement fits entirely within the viola’s range, except for one low B flat. Tertis suggests tuning the C string down to achieve this note, but also gives an alternative for those disinclined to alter the instrument’s tuning. Ridout used the alternative solution in concert, but tried it both ways at the sessions. ‘While actually playing, it felt more dolce, espressivo in the higher octave, but when listening to the takes I found that the colour of the lower octave was just better, so that’s what went on the record. Of course, in concert it’s riskier because you have to tune up quickly before the finale, and nobody wants to hear an out-of-tune C string, but I’d certainly love to keep this effect the next time I play the piece live!’…

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