Let beauty awake


The Strad Issue: October 2017
Description: English 20th-century music blooms gorgeously on the viola
Musicians: Ellen Nisbeth (viola) Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Composer: Vaughan Williams
Catalogue Number: BIS 2182 (SACD hybrid)

Swedish violist Ellen Nisbeth has recently been selected by the European Concert Hall Association as one its ‘Rising Stars’. She is also a passionate admirer of British music, as is apparent immediately from her beguiling playing of Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel (in her own skilled arrangement) and Romance, in which she captures the music’s wistful nostalgia with just the right degree of tantalising restraint. Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata has a Ravelian cool written into its archaic gesturing, making Nisbeth’s and Forsberg’s impassioned detailing of its meticulous ebb and flow especially compelling.

The central Vivace comes bursting to life, with Nisbeth subtly insinuating her sleight-of-hand virtuosity into the piano’s glittering textures, enhanced by the tangible clarity of the recording, made even more lifelike in SACD surround-sound. The long adagio introduction to the finale can easily pall in the wrong hands, but such is this dream team’s narrative intensity that one is left wishing it would go on unspiralling for ever. Britten’s Lachrymae is left with no emotional stone unturned as Nisbeth shines an interpretative torch into the work’s darkest recesses, while her chameleon-like changeability in the Third Cello Suite (another inspired self-penned transcription) fits hand-in-glove with the music’s dazzling ingenuity. JULIAN HAYLOCK