The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: Nothing formulaic about the programming or playing of solo viola music
Musicians: Nicholas Cords (viola)
Composer: Biber (transc. Lebermann), Rubbra, Hovhaness, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Cords

In this enterprisingly programmed and vividly recorded CD, Nicholas Cords – violist with, among other adventurous groups, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble – presents an unusually wide selection of unaccompanied viola music. In the opening Passacaglia by Biber, Cords adopts a historically informed style with discrete use of vibrato and an apparently unlimited number of different ways in which to break the chords to allow for the ground bass to come through. Nothing could be more different than his solidly sonorous characterisation of the concluding Passacaglia of Hindemith’s Sonata op.11 no.5, that develops an impressive forward momentum, but is somewhat short on the composer’s peculiar brand of humour.

In between come Rubbra’s Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn, mesmerisingly played and almost seguing into Hovhaness’s hypnotically beautiful Chahagir and Stravinsky’s muted Élégie. For each of these pieces, Cords fascinatingly deploys a different tonal palette, from the warm, velvety vocal quality of Chahagir to a rather hard-hitting tone in the Hindemith.

For his arrangement of an Irish tune and his own engaging composition Five Migrations, Cords uses multi-tracking and several other kinds of computer-based sound processing, including what sounds like the simulation of LP surface noise. Some clue in the booklet would have been useful, but this is nevertheless a rewarding and illuminating recording.

Carlos María Solare