MELANKOLI Ÿ Morten Carlsen (va); Sergei Osadchuk (pn); Marianne Beate Kielland (mez)1 Ÿ 2L Ÿ 2L1 (71:15 &)

Adagio. DOWLAND If my complaints could passions move.
1 BRITTEN Lachrymae. PÄRT Spiegel im spiegel. JOPLIN (Arr. Arnold) Solace. KVANDAL Elegie, op. 47/1, for solo viola. BLOCH Meditation and Processional. LISZT Valse oubliée No. 1, piano solo. Romance oubliée. BRAHMS Spruch;1 2 Lieder, op. 911

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Giving a CD of viola music a title like Melancholy is playing to your audience’s prejudices: I don’t know how all those viola jokes started, but their stereotypical violist would indeed seem to be a melancholy fellow. But you have to leave all that baggage at the door here: Kodály’s deeply moving Adagio (1905)—its musical language sitting on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries (and predating his fascination with folk song)—insists that you sit down and take this program seriously. Prefacing Britten’s Lachrymae (1950) with the Dowland song that it varies rather gives the game away: Britten’s tactical ploy was revealing the tune only at the end. But it does thereby offer an interesting aural exercise, since in some of the variations it’s far from easy to perceive the outlines of Dowland’s original melody (interestingly, Britten doesn’t label the piece as a variation set: The subtitle is “Reflections on a song by Dowland”).

The recital proceeds with a satisfying alternation of the familiar and unfamiliar: Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel I didn’t know in this guise (the plangent tones of the viola form a telling contrast with the brighter arpeggios in the piano), and Joplin’s Solace (though here in an arrangement by Alan Arnold) brings a hesitant shift in tone. Morten Carlsen’s accompanying essay claims that the Elegie by Norwegian composer Johan Kvandal (1919–99)—part of his Elegi og Capriccio, op. 47, of 1977—is “related to the natural lyricism in Grieg’s music.” Try as I can, I can’t hear a Norwegian element in it, though that doesn’t mean its understated, unhappy drama isn’t effective; a pity, though, that we couldn’t hear the offsetting second part of Kvandal’s diptych, but I guess it wouldn’t have fit with the concept of the album. Bloch’s stately, neo-Baroque Processional (1950) is indeed brighter than the melismatic Meditation which precedes it, but it does retain a wistful quality, as do the concluding items by Liszt and Brahms, the Spruch (c. 1857–59) being a canon written for Joachim and his contralto fiancée. The marriage was to end in acrimonious divorce, and although his two songs for contralto and piano with viola obbligato, op. 91, may not have brought the couple together again, they bring warm-hearted balm after the severity of the Spruch.

Fine performances from Norwegian violist Morten Carlsen and his Ukrainian-born, Norway-based pianist, the one full of concentrated passion, focused along the extended melodic lines of which so much of this material consists, the other rhythmically alert in sympathetic support. Marianne Beate Kielland is in good voice in the Dowland and Brahms, though she could usefully have projected a little more personality into her part—she seems a little reluctant to make it her own. Good sound, only slightly marred by obtrusive breathing, to which you eventually become accustomed. There’s a nice touch in Carlsen’s notes, too, which are in Norwegian, German, and English: For each language he has sought out a different poem to illustrate his melancholic theme. Very thoughtful—like his playing. Well worth investigating.

Martin Anderson

Nov/Dec 2002