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Elgar / Schnittke: Viola Concertos
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This CD has received three unusually helpful reviews already, so I can only echo their enthusiasm for Carpenter (whose cover photo looks uncannily like it was lifted from a Caravaggio). The viola can sound whiny, muted, and melancholy, not traits that thrust one center stage in the musical world. Arnold Schnittke found ingenious ways to rev up the instrument's passion, and he asks for eerie and disturbing modernist sounds that Carpenter produces with considerable edgy intensity. This is an aggressive reading. One should try an alternative interpretation on the Ambroisie label from yet another young Turk of the viola, Antoine Tamestit, who is more poised and reflective, to quote a previous reviewer of that CD. Ambroisie's recorded sound is more enticing, too, being of demonstration quality.

As for th Elgar transcription, I'm not convinced, even though the composer himself approved and conducted the work. The cello has such distinctive depth and eloquence, it's problematic simply to transpose any of its concertos upward. surely Elgar was thinking of the instrument's specific personality. It's not like transposing sideways, so to speak, as when Brahms's clarinet sonatas are given to a viola. Here, Carpenter plays as well as any first-rate cellist, but the work loses a good deal of stature. Eschenbach accompaniment is straightforward and not very passionate.

I can't resist quoting a description of the Schnittke, which is a great addition to the viola repertoire. The review was posted elsewhere by "Philippe Vandenbroeck. "This concerto is anything but a virtuoso showpiece. Its musical argument is deeply serious and truly symphonic in breadth. In its monumental slow finale and generally darkly hued orchestration - there are no violins in the orchestra - it connects back to the sombre soundscapes of Shostakovich's Tenth symphony. Its angularity and rowdy polystilism reinforce the atmosphere of despair that pervades this whole piece." The concerto is dominated by the long Largo finale, which Carpenter takes quite slowly, from 2 to 4 min. slower than his rivals (there have been quite a number, including the acclaimed Yuri Bashmet). For me, the argument of this movement grows a bit loose and uninteresting, so I favor a quicker pace, but that's a matter of taste. In any event, it's hard to argue against this charismatic newcomer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2009
Blazing a world-class career on the heels of such luminaries as Yuri Bashmet and Roberto Diaz, violist David Aaron Carpenter makes a shining debut on his first CD featuring a transcription of the Edward Elgar Cello Concerto, and the Alfred Schnittke Viola Concerto, both recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. In his own note for the CD, Mr. Carpenter writes of how several Classical and Romantic composers were passionate fans of the viola, yet wrote few works specifically for its darker charms. His theory is the historical shortage of famous viola virtuosos who were capable of generating widespread fame with concertos on the same level as violin, cello, and piano. Mr. Carpenter, at 23, is a fresh protégé rising to the challenge of placing viola in a brighter solo spotlight. If his debut recording is any indication, he should achieve much success.

In order to draw listeners to the viola's special capabilities, Mr. Carpenter issues the Elgar with his own stamp, personally transcribing the solo part based on Lionel Tertis' famous, composer-approved version as a template. Mr. Carpenter closely aligns his version to the original cello solo part, yet gives it colorful characteristics that are distinctively violistic. Throughout the Elgar's treasury of thrilling moments, as well as the chilling and difficult Schnittke concerto, Mr. Carpenter plays with star-making technique that is where it should be: ever present yet transparent. Rapid passages tickle the ear with precision. Slower sections arch with incredible phrasing. Changes of dynamics, harmonics, and other extended techniques reveal the richness and excitement to be found in both scores. Most impressively, from the heart-wrenching opening of the Elgar, through the final emotional strains of the Schnittke, Mr. Carpenter consistently produces captivating tone. His approach to the challenging Schnittke awakens curiosity, forcing the listener to wonder what is coming next, a rare feat in modern repertoire that only comes from the most virtuosic hands. Mr. Eschenbach's accompaniment is equally impressive, allowing the viola to project through the orchestra as clear as a bell, even in bolder moments where the viola could be easily lost. This impressive first CD deserves recognition, and should advance Mr. Carpenter on his fast trajectory toward worldwide stardom.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2009
The title of the CD is "Elgar, Schnittke: Viola Concertos". Some of you may wonder why you've never heard of a viola concerto by Elgar. In the 1930's, violist Lionel Tertis approached Elgar with an idea for a transcription of his recently completed cello concerto (now one of Elgar's most popular works, made famous mostly thanks to cellist Jacqueline du Pre).

Some 70+ years later, David Aaron Carpenter (a protege of Pinchas Zuckerman), has recorded this transcription for the Finnish label Ondine. He has even made a few changes of his own, for good measure. I'm torn on this piece, as I am a former violist myself. I appreciate what Mr. Carpenter is trying to bring to this piece, but in the end, I thought the viola was too boxy. I couldn't stop thinking of the du Pre/Barbirolli recording of the cello concerto that is now one the staples of an essential classical music collection. Technically, David Aaron Carpenter is very gifted, and Christoph Eschenbach and the Philharmonia Orchestra provide ample energy to Elgar's great work, but in the end, I found myself missing the warmth and charm of the cello.

I have not yet heard any other recordings of the Schnittke viola concerto. If I decide to dig deeper, I'll look for the recording featuring the violist for whom it was written, Yuri Bashmet. I've even heard TDK had released a DVD of Bashmet's performance of this piece, which also includes Valery Gergiev discussing the work. Unfortunately, I don't believe the DVD is available in the States. In any case, I thought this was a really passionate work. Two Largo movements bookend a very frenetic 2nd movement, the opposite of what you would expect to hear in a 3-movement concerto.

Kudos to Naxos for taking on distribution of the Ondine label (I've enjoyed some of their recordings of Rautavaara), and I will be keeping an eye out for David Aaron Carpenter's next release.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2013
This is more a review of the music than of the artistry (which is unquestioned). The Edward Elgar "Cello Concerto in E minor, opus 85" is beautifully scored and the arrangement for Viola is excellent. Hearing it renewed my love and admiration for the rich tones of the well-played Viola. Unfortunately, the Alfred Schnittke concerto had the opposite effect. Its one of those compositions so filled with dissonance that one can scarcely tell whether any note on any instrument is being played correctly. (Of course I'm biased by my dislike for that type of music.) Still, I recommend the first twenty-nine minutes of this CD.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2009
I must admit that I have been like most of the rest of you and relegated the Viola to lame duck jokes and relegated it to the shadows of its smaller sister the violin. However, David Aaron Carpenter has awakened new light to my ears. He is a virtuoso on the instrument. He brings lush vocal like presence to the tone and you can hear all of the emotion that Elgar and Schnitke must have felt when they wrote the pices performed here.
This is a beautiful recording that I know I will be listening to many times over. I highly recommend you take a listen.
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