The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: A welcome recital that puts the viola in a vocal context
Musicians: Rebecca Jones (viola) Karina Lucas (mezzo-soprano) Simon Lane (piano)
Composer: Loeffler, Brahms, Bridge, Copland

Given that the viola can be seen as the ‘mezzo-soprano’ of strings, pairing it with a real mezzo-soprano voice seems so obvious that it’s surprising there is not much more music for this combination. Brahms was one of the first to try it, writing the Two Songs op.91 for his friend Joseph Joachim and his wife. They have been often recorded, but surely never so fast as in the present version, that shaves off between one and two minutes from the usual timings, and is just too hectic for this melancholic, autumnal music to make its mark.

Loeffler’s settings of Baudelaire and Verlaine contain some ambitious writing for both viola and piano that is well realised by these musicians, although some clanging pizzicatos in the ‘Sérénade’ might have merited a retake. Best of all are Frank Bridge’s Three Songs: good as her French and German diction is, Karina Lucas is at her most eloquent singing in her native English, here and in the Copland cycle. Bridge was, of course, a viola player, and the Two Pieces are effectively written. Rebecca Jones comes into her own in them, playing with passion and a beautifully dark tone. A sudden change of perspective a few bars into the Allegro appassionato is probably due to clumsy editing, as is a supernumerary piano chord towards the end of ‘Pensiero’.

Carlos Marìa Solare