Pieces for Alto and Viola
COMPACT DISK REVIEW
Soloists: William Primrose, viola, and Marian Anderson, alto voice, with
various accompanists, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by
Eugene Ormandy. Biddulph Recordings Compact Disc, 1997.
Biddulph Recordings is an offshoot of a famous violin shop in London, which
began to acquire archive recordings of great string players such as Fritz
Kreisler and William Primrose, and to release them on CD. They have outdone
themselves this time, with an inspired pairing of performances by Primrose,
the most renowned violist of this century, and Marian Anderson, the greatest
singer ever to come from the U.S.
The Primrose recordings are the two Brahms viola sonatas, recorded in 1937
and 1946. Anderson is represented by some questionable orchestrations of
Brahms Lieder, and by a magnificent recording of the
Alto Rhapsody, featuring a better performance
by Anderson than the one made in San Francisco, and a gripping accompaniment
by the Philadelphia Orchestra (regrettably marred by the raucous shouting
of the University of Pennsylvania's Men's Glee Club, which provides the male
chorus.) This recording was made in 1939.
However, the high point of this disk is the collaboration between the great
Scotsman, Primrose, and the great American, Anderson, on Brahms'
Two Songs for Alto,
Viola Obbligato and Piano (Op. 91). Primrose, who epitomized Paul
Doktor's doctrine of the viola as a "Bel Canto" instrument, found in Marian
Anderson an ideal partner; the great songs of Brahms are transfigured by
the remarkable intimacy of these two performers. Primrose later was to write
in his memoirs, that this recording session was one of the most rewarding
moments in his artistic career. It is equally rewarding for the listener.