THE STRAD

Thu 26 Jan 2012

Brahms: Viola Sonatas op.120 Bel canto meets Brahms in some perhaps over-lovingly tended sonata performances

This latest in the apparently unending line of Brahms viola sonata recordings comes from south of the Alps. Danilo Rossi is principal viola at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, and his duo partnership with Stefano Bezziccheri goes back some 20 years. The music is presented both on a regular CD and on a DVD that also includes a 20-minute interview (in Italian, with English subtitles). Therein – apart from touchingly remembering playing this music for viola playing conductor Carlo Maria Giulini’s 80th birthday – Rossi explains how the character differences between both pieces led him to his choices of register when adapting the original clarinet part. They are, basically, low in the F minor Sonata, high in the E flat major one, and they work very well.

Rossi draws a dark, masculine tone from a Maggini viola that belonged to his teacher Dino Asciolla, and his astutely chosen fingerings – which can be inspected at leisure on the DVD – effectively showcase the instrument’s colours. My only worry is that both players risk killing the music with too much kindness. They add a minute or more to each movement’s usual timings, and apply an above-average amount of rubato in an unashamedly bel canto manner (Bezziccheri sticks to Rossi like glue, never missing him for as much as a demisemiquaver).

The recording is warm and truthful but very close, so that Rossi’s impassioned breathing does become intrusive. An enjoyable experience nonetheless, especially in its video version.

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