This second volume shines a light on viola rarities

AVS Presents: 2023 – Underrepresented Composers

The Strad Issue: June 2024

Description: This second volume shines a light on viola rarities

Musicians: Fábio Saggin, Jacob Adams, Sheila Browne, Alyssa Warcup, Mary Moran, Rafael Videira, Vijay Chalasani (violas) Mauren Frey, Paul Lee, Julie Nishimura (pianos) Tallā Rouge Duo

Works: Music by Behrend, de Biase Bidart, Clearfield, Esmail, Mansurian, Montgomery, Taaffe Zwilich and Toni

Catalogue number: AVS PRESENTS

It’s been ten years since the American Viola Society published its first self-produced CD, compiling American viola music from as long ago as 1906. Relaunched as AVS Presents, the label aims to release an annual CD, of which this is the first. Just what makes a composer underrepresented might be open to discussion (there’s a Pulitzer Prize winner here), but certainly none of those included can be said to be overexposed. Although there’s only space to mention selected highlights, all this music deserves to become better known.


The Brazilian Lycia de Biase Bidart obviously possessed a rare melodic gift, and of course one’s heart goes out to a piece called Viola from Heaven! This beautiful morsel from 1969, charmingly etched by Fábio Saggin and Mauren Frey, makes for an uplifting start to proceedings. Perhaps inevitably, a certain amount of elegiac music is on the bill of fare, but Jeanne Behrend’s 1944 Lamentation, written in memory of her cousin, killed in action in the Second World War, packs a tremendous emotional punch as performed by Jacob Adams and Paul Lee. Andrea Clearfield’s Convergence (2008) is a tough nut to crack, but Sheila Browne and Julie Nishimura command one’s attention in a reading of compelling authority that makes light of some unconventional writing. Curtis Institute student Alyssa Warcup shows her considerable mettle in Jessie Montgomery’s Ysaÿe-inspired Rhapsody no.1.

Each track was recorded in a different venue, making for variable but always favourable acoustics, and concise notes help put each piece into context.