Johannes Brahms:
Pieces for Alto and Viola


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.


Here are links for sound samples of Marian Anderson and William Primrose.

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