Thursday, October 20, 2016

Viola and Berlioz, in the Eye of the Storm...

We know that the powerful composer Berlioz used opium at least part of the time during which  he wrote his legendary "Symphonie fantastique." The lurid nature of a marvelous orchestral technique is much in front of our senses as we continue to be in awe of this composition, even though the  greater part of two centuries has passed since its writing-  such as with the alcoholism of Moussorgsky enhancing  the message of "Boris Godunov" and "Pictures at an Exhibition," or the coming mental/emotional instability of Van Gogh giving better rise, quite probably, in my view, to the increasing power of message, especially  in his latter paintings.
A rather curious lack of anguish is extant, curiously, in the unique combine of viola and symphony orchestra titled "Harold in Italy." Throughout this wonderful creation replete with lush color and a rather contemplative portrayal of human emotion with no specified forms of anguish, a different  mode  of dialogue  is given over to a solo instrument and orchestra. And yet  "Harold" is not a concerto for viola and orchestra; rather, a symphony with an elemental form of marvelously fusing 'meanderings' represented by the viola,  woven into the fabric of a kind of 'chamber' view of  what can be given to a full symphony orchestra.
In the third decade of the 19th century, a coruscating view of orchestral writing -   even Paganini, the greatest violin player of his and, just perhaps,  ANY time, who talked Berlioz into writing something important for the viola(he had just gained ownership of a viola, and wanted something written for it) was disappointed, at first flush, in "Harold in Italy." Later on, Paganini altered his view of this composition, and became one of its principal enthusiasts.
During my school days, the playing of the viola part by William Primrose, was one of my great memories, and I practically wore out the recording of it - I believe the conductor of the recording was none other than Toscanini himself.
And the performer, William Primrose - well; how many violists played the Paganini Caprices on the viola?? Well, HE did... Yes, indeed; a violist with an enormous technique...
To hear the viola in an unforgettable pose, see if you can get  hold of Primrose doing Berlioz.
Above all, the combine of Primrose and Berlioz is  a rarity to experience...

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