In schubert's company

The Strad Issue: August 2017
Description: Violin works on the viola miss out on exploiting the instrument’s deeper voice
Musicians: Maxim Rysanov (viola), Yakov Katsnelson (piano), Riga Sinfonietta
Composer: Schubert, Akhunov, Desyatnikov etc.
Catalogue Number: Onyx 4183 (2 CDs)

The trouble with arranging violin works for viola, as Maxim Rysanov does three times here, is that the violin is an upward-tending instrument and you are unlikely to end up with much music in the meat of the viola’s range. Rysanov’s control on his A string is superb, but I would rather hear all three pieces on the violin. Schubert’s Polonaise is a bit of fun to start with. Sergey Akhunov’s In Schubert’s Company is a nice original viola piece on a not-over-familiar Schubert theme, with excellent writing for the orchestra: it dies away effectively. His treatment of Erlkönig is interesting and obsessive, playing with scraps of melody: the effect is impressive, the ending quite shattering. Written for Gidon Kremer, Leonid Desyatnikov’s Wie der alte Leiermann… uses the haunting theme of ‘Der Leiermann’ cleverly and there is a faster section before once again the music dies away. Dobrinka Tabakova’s arrangement of the song is suitably creepy. Her Fantasy Homage, utilising the start of the C major Fantasy, creates an intriguing soundscape but one waits more than seven minutes for not much to happen: Schubert’s theme appears and disappears twice. In context, Schubert’s pleasantly performed Fifth Symphony seems like self-indulgence. A lot of heavy breathing from Rysanov attends both the sonatas, where Yakov Katsnelson’s piano is backwardly balanced. Rysanov is eloquent in the Andante of the G minor Sonata. He toys with the Arpeggione Sonata more than I would ideally like, but at least we hear real viola tone. TULLY POTTER