Stamitz: Viola Concertos / Peruska, Belohlavek

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C. STAMITZ Viola Concerto in D, op. 1. J. V. STAMIC Viola Concerto in G. A. STAMITZ Viola Concerto in B? Jan P?ruška (va); Ji?í B?lohlávek, cond; Prague Philharmonia SUPRAPHON 3929 (57:51)

Jan P?ruška’s survey of the Stamitz (Stamic is the Czech spelling) family’s works for viola and orchestra sandwiches Jan Václav Stamic’s Concerto between two by his sons, Carl and Anton. If viola jokes circulated as widely in the composers’ era as they do today, they didn’t inhibit the composition of brilliant solo works for an instrument that seems at least subsequently to have acquired the reputation of being played by failed violinists (the difference between an onion and a viola being that nobody cries when you cut a viola, and so on). Carl’s Concerto features imposing tuttis and brilliant passagework (some of it almost Baroque in its dogged reliance on bariolages and arpeggios) built on ingratiating thematic material and strutting its fashionable style in textures that set the virtuosic solo in high relief, especially in the final movement. P?ruška plays warmly in the slow movement and commandingly in the outer ones, roughing up his tone only in the very highest registers; in his hands, the viola seems even at this date fully worthy of the Concerto that Walton later wrote for it. The engineers place his viola center stage in very clear and lifelike recorded sound. And even if the Concerto can’t quite maintain musical interest throughout, the textures and gestures almost suffice—after all, works in a new genre (think of early color or wide-screen movies) often depend for their effect more than later critics might prefer on the medium rather than on the message. And in this case, the medium still makes a striking impression.

Jan’s Concerto sounds older, and in the context of the other works, arguably stodgier, than Carl’s, though it still cuts a dashing figure. The strings don’t back off so far during the tuttis, and the solo part, fighting for attention, doesn’t sound generally so brilliant as it does in the concertos of Stamitz fils ; but the prominent continuo by itself isn’t a sign of age: even Haydn employed a sort of figured bass.

Anton’s Concerto, like his brother’s, comes from an era farther removed stylistically than chronologically than that of his father. It’s more restrained in the brilliance of its display, however, than Carl’s Concerto, perhaps because, as in his father’s works, the strings don’t provide such a springboard from which the soloist can vault—or perhaps because of the more subdued key in which it’s written.

Collectively these pieces, played with such aplomb by both soloist and orchestra and so brightly recorded, make a very appealing showcase for the solo viola. They make a case that violists and lovers of string instruments might wish had been decided more favorably by succeeding musical judges. But, as the recording proves, it’s not too late. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU3929-2

  • UPC: 099925392925

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Anton Stamitz, Carl Stamitz, Johann Wenzel Stamitz

  • Conductor: Jirí Belohlávek

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Prague Chamber Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia

  • Performer: Jan Peruska