Viola solo - Euler
MDG Scene 903 2160-6
Classical - Instrumental
Reger: 3 Suites, Op. 131d No. 1-3
Hindemith: Viola Sonata
Christian Euler, viola
Christian Euler dares to do what not many dare to do: he performs an entire hour of music for viola solo, without accompaniment. Euler’s full, warm, and highly nuanced tone echoes through this demanding, yet entertaining program presenting some classics as well as several rarities.
Alfred Pochon’s Passacaglia was composed as a competition piece. Bach’s great Chaconne for violin solo is recognizably its model, even in detail, and yet Pochon, who celebrated considerable successes as a chamber musician during the first decades of the twentieth century, finds a genuinely authentic tone for the viola. Euler’s intense and rich treatment of tone transforms this work, which Pochon must have composed merely on the side, into a very special, opulent sound experience.
Reger too – how could it be otherwise? – followed Bach’s example and wrote a special recommendation for the viola with a total of three Solo Suites for this instrument. Christian Euler of course masters the immense technical demands with bravura. Moreover, even though the texture repeatedly is bold harmonically, his musical realization of it is very discerning, very much to the advantage of these underestimated gems.
And of course Hindemith – the viola was his instrument of instruments! Ambitious in tonality, he nevertheless followed classical models until the mid-twentieth century. This release reaches a special high point with Stravinsky’s Elegy, which is strictly maintained in a two-part texture and yet stylistically is situated at a very far remove from Bach or Reger. Here Stravinsky ventures into an entirely new sound cosmos displaying its unique magic particularly in the three-dimensional sound world of this Super Audio CD transmitting the finest acoustic impressions.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 1, 2020
It is sometimes suggested that Berlioz was not a great admirer of viola players: « Les joueurs de viole étaient toujours pris dans les rebuts des violonistes » (Viola players were always taken from among the refuse of violinists). Did he mean it? No. At the time, it was a statement of fact, but at the same time also one of regret. In his ‘Extracts from the Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration’ (Extrait du traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration) he said: « De tous les instruments de l’orchestre, celui dont les excellentes qualités ont été le plus longtemps méconnues, c’est l’alto » (among all orchestral instruments, the viola’s excellent qualities have suffered the longest neglect), blaming composers unable to attribute in their compositions a real part to this instrument rather than criticise its players. He went even further, calling the viola « ce noble instrument » for which he composed Harold in Italy, a symphony for Viola and Orchestra.
However, even in our time the function and hence the appreciation of the viola is still not widely acknowledged. Take for instance a string quartet. People look and listen to the first violinist at one end and the cellist at the other, but less so to ‘the persons in the middle’, notably the violist. Even in the symphony hall, the violas seem to be sitting forlornly somewhere in the middle of the crowd on stage. But isn’t that just where they should be? Their sonority does fill an important gap in the overall sound of the strings.
Listening to this new release, we cannot but agree that after all Berlioz was right. If played well, the viola is a beautiful and certainly a noble instrument. Be it that the player must know how to handle it. Not only the correct pitch is important, but also, and perhaps even more so, how to create a warm well-developed tone, or as someone told me, how to choose between playing as a “tenor or contralto”. I know of only a handful who really can, like today’s usual suspects, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian and Tabea Zimmerman. But there are, of course, more and not least unexpected talents out there, like for instance the Swedish viola player Ellen Nisbeth (Let Beauty Awake - Nisbeth / Forsberg). And here we have another fitting my perhaps too severe expectations: Christian Euler!
This is his fourth recording for MDG and it is high time that we, at HRAudio.net, pay attention to this accomplished musician. Euler has so far, together with his partner at the piano, Paul Rivinius, enriched the hi-res catalogue with new recordings of major viola repertoire, as well as some difficult to find works. This time MDG presents him with a disc entirely devoted to solo works.
The centrepiece is no doubt the three solo suites by Max Reger. Being an admirer of J.S. Bach, they are modelled along Baroque lines, similar and as a complement to his earlier violin and cello suites. They all carry the same opus number, though with a ‘d’ added for the viola version. Written towards the end of his life, these suites are the fruit of musical maturity, testing the limits of neo-romanticism, but interestingly enough, largely free from sentimental backwards-looking elements.
They demand a viola player with considerable skills. Intonation must be perfect. Heuler doesn’t just play the viola well; he plays with his viola, using all the possibilities the instrument offers to bring out the beauty of the music. Easily shifting from warm lows to the thrilling colours of the upper range palette, he ably draws out sounds few people may have known possible from ‘the instrument in the middle’.
Looking at the CMUSE list of ‘10 Famous Viola Players You Should Know’, one finds Paul Hindemith in third position. I’m aware that this list is ‘a’ list and there may well be others with different names, or putting them in a different position. But it does make unmistakably clear that Hindemith belongs to the happy few. No wonder, therefore, that his sonatas rank among the best available repertoire for the viola. On a release entirely devoted to this instrument Hindemith, should, therefore, not be left out. What Ysaÿe was for the violin, Hindemith was, as far as I’m concerned, for the viola: A test for any violist with high aspirations. From the previous paragraph, it may be clear that Christian Euler has, in my view, passed the test with flying colours.
There are alternative choices in Super Audio format for both, suites and sonata, but where Heuler is unique, is in Alfred Pochon’s ‘Passacaglia pour alto seul’, if only because I’ve not been able to find any other recording in any format. It’s a lovely Bach-like piece and we should be glad to have it now ‘on record’. And as for the closing work, Stravinsky’s Elegy, Heuler has taken care to play this sombre piece with all the respect it merits in view of the idea behind it.
I think that this disc, recorded with MDG's perfect sound philosophy, should be high on anyone’s shopping list. For viola players at any rate, but surely also for all those wanting to know more about this noble instrument.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net