The Strad Issue: January 2011
Musicians: MÁ tè Szücs (viola) László Fenyö (cello) Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
Composer: Sarasate, Händel–Halvorsen, Paganini

This recording’s title – ‘The Proud Viola’ – and its contents (not to mention a booklet note that deplores the sad fate of viola players, condemned to play just chamber music) couldn’t help but remind me that Pride is a mortal sin that, according to the vox populi, is promptly followed by a fall. This is, of course, violin music played note-for-note on the viola, sounding accordingly a fifth lower, with variable results. The opening phrases of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy sound for all the world like an LP running too slow, with none of, say, Ricci’s or Perlman’s G-string vibrance. It does get better, some suspect intonation in the thirds of the Danse bohème notwithstanding, but questions concerning the actual necessity of the whole exercise keep rising, as they do during the Händel–Halvorsen Passacaglia (here MÁ tè Szücs plays the violin part mostly at the original pitch).

Assorted Paganini caprices fare much better, with Szücs taking in his stride the extreme stretches required by no.6 (where the tremolo writing sounds uncommonly well-focused) as well as the various passages in octaves or tenths, chord playing and staccato runs of no.7. This most naturally sounding SACD ends with an excellent account of La campanella, played in Primrose’s arrangement (uncredited). Szücs is obviously a player of rare technical accomplishment; his credentials as a musician are eagerly awaited, preferably in music that is ‘better than it can ever be played’ (to quote Artur Schnabel), approached without too much pride.

Carlos María Solare