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Walton and Rubbra Viola Concertos

Walton Viola Concerto (original version)
Rubbra Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn Op 117; Viola Concerto in A, Op 75

Lawrence Power (viola)
BBC SO/Volkov

Hyperion CDA67587

These days, record companies know well that they are compelled to bring any “added value” they can to recordings. So all the three works on this disc are in unusual versions. The Walton is not the 1961 revision with which we are familiar, and which features cut-down orchestration, the Rubbra Meditations are a first recording of a version for solo viola, not the usual two violas (in the recomposition.) Even the Rubbra concerto is a first recording in stereo.

Do Power and Volkov need this helping hand, that their recording is sui generis? Not really. The BBC Scottish’s playing is crisp, Volkov shapes the structure well, and Power himself is musical and sensitive throughout, above all in the plangency of the Rubbra pieces.

Power completely understands the oscillation between gentleness and struggle in Rubbra; the Meditations (which are of course tremendously hard to play in the solo version) are a compelling success. Their title is exactly correct – too exploratory to be variations, and conjuring the sense of meditation in their open textures.

In the concertos, Power seems more at home in the smaller scale of the Rubbra also. He takes the listener on an epic emotional journey and makes an excellent case for the concerto to have the popularity and stature of the Walton.

The Walton – though its scale is even grander than usual with the bigger orchestra -  has less sense of the soloist’s personality. The brief scherzo, with its reminiscence of the ‘Happy Birthday’ theme, is generally the most successful movement. Power does not erase our memories of the classic accounts (of course of the revision!) by William Primrose (recently reissued on Naxos historical), Bashmet or Vengerov.

Typically fine recording from Simon Eadon; interesting notes and immaculate presentation. Highly recommended.

Ying Chang