An impressive calling-card for a stylish young viola player
Fashioned for the great Lionel Tertis, Bliss's imposing Viola Sonata of 1933 has been enjoying a renaissance on disc: this fine new recording by Hungarian viola player Eniko Magyar (a product of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied with Martin Outram) is the fifth to have come my way in as many years. Confidently partnered by Tadashi Imai, Magyar gives a most compelling interpretation which, in its rewarding marriage of youthful vigour and songful grace, occupies a satisfying middle ground between the thrustingly dramatic Outram/Rolton (Naxos, 6/03) and Bridge Duo (LIR, 2/06) versions and the more unforced, supple approach espoused by Doris Lederer (Centaur, 1/06) and Roger Chase (Dutton, 1/10).
Tertis's own arrangement of Delius's Third Violin Sonata was published in 1932, the virtuoso having sought and received approval on a visit to Grez-sur-Loing the previous year. It's an effective and accomplished piece of work, and these sensitive artists are fully attuned to the music's intensely lyrical flow and inimitably Delian sunset glow (the valedictory finale being especially moving). The sequence of seven pieces by Frank Bridge (an admirable viola player in his own right) date from between 1901 and 1908. The winsome Berceuse, Serenade and Norse Legend were later orchestrated; just two (Pensiero and Allegro appassionato) were originally conceived for viola and piano. Once again, Magyar and Imai are utterly convincing protagonists of all this attractive material.
Throw in sound that is undistractingly truthful, Lewis Foreman's helpfully detailed notes and Naxos's enticing price-tag, and it is certainly adds up to a healthy recommendation.
Andrew Achenback, Gramophone May 2010
The Toronto Star:
The violin's neglected, deeper-voiced cousin gets its full due from London-based Hungarian Enikö Magyar and her piano accompanist Tadashi Imai in early-20th-century pieces from England that deserve to be heard far more often. The disc opens with the most Modern-sounding piece, the 1933 Viola Sonata by Arthur Bliss (1891-1975). It is followed by an arrangement for viola, by Lionel Tertis, of the sweet, 1930 Violin Sonata No. 3 by Frederick Delius (1862-1934). The prettiest music of all on the disc comes from seven pieces for viola and piano by Benjamin Britten's composition teacher, Frank Bridge (1879-1941). Magyar's technique has lyrical grace that makes magic out of this diverse program. Imai is her ideal counterpart on the piano.
John Terauds, The Toronto Star December 2009
Minnesota Public Radio:
Is the viola making a comeback? After Aaron David Carpenter last week, here’s another stylish soloist who, with her pianist (both fresh from the Royal Academy of Music) is destined for big things by the evidence here. The several Bridge miniatures are charming, while sonatas by Bax and Delius provide real depth and substance. Beautifully balanced sound, too.
Michael Barone, Minnesota Public Radio November 2009
The Whole Note:
There is something about the viola’s tonal quality that makes it seem quintessentially English; appropriately so, given that it was an Englishman – Lionel Tertis – who almost singlehandedly established the viola as a legitimate solo instrument in the early 20th century.Tertis had connections with most of the music on this outstanding debut CD by the London-based Hungarian violist Eniko Magyar.
The Bliss Sonata is the most challenging of the works, with a turbulent, restless and dissonant start and a passionate third movement. It was written for, and dedicated to, Tertis, who gave the first performance in 1933.
A year earlier, Tertis had transcribed Delius’s Third Violin Sonata and had played it for the ailing composer at the latter’s home in Grez-sur-Loing. Written in 1930, it is Delius at his distinctively lyrical best. The seven attractive miniatures by Frank Bridge date from 1901 to 1908, when Bridge was in his 20s. Most were originally written for violin or cello; only two – Pensiero and Allegro appassionato – were written specifically for the viola, Bridge’s own instrument, and were published as the first titles in the Lionel Tertis Viola Library in 1908.
Magyar plays her c.1700 Grancino viola (on loan from the Royal Academy) with warmth, sensitivity, and a superb technique, and is ably and sympathetically supported by pianist Tadashi Imai. The recording quality and booklet notes are both excellent.
Terry Robbins, The Whole Note February 2010
This disc has Lionel Tertis stamped all over it. The pioneering violist was the inspirer of Bliss’s hugely impressive sonata. At the private first performance, which he gave, Solomon was his piano partner for whom William Walton turned the pages. Soon after that Rubinstein was sight-reading the piano part for a BBC broadcast with Tertis. The Bliss sonata has had expensive tastes in pianists - not to mention violists.
And now we have Hungarian-born and now London-resident Enikö Magyar to add to the roster. She was a student of, amongst others, Martin Outram with whom she presumably studied the sonata. Perhaps he even introduced her to it. He’s already recorded it for Naxos [8.555931] on an all-Bliss chamber disc, so Naxos is now sporting two competing versions, though the element of ‘competition’ is lessened by the repertoire involved in each disc.
In any case there are strong points of divergence in their performances. She very properly has her own ideas, and these are not simply to do with tempo. On that point she is certainly slower in the first two movements than Outram, but also tends to sculpt phrases rather more dramatically and succulently. She has splendid tonal depth and this gives her sense of projection an almost theatrical dimension. She plays moreover with flexible metre, but stresses the moderato element of the first movement in particular, where Outram moves things on that bit more tersely. It’s this degree of passionate commitment that I admire so much in her playing. The slow movement’s opening and closing pizzicato are draped in melancholia, for instance, and paragraph points are always etched and alive. The vigorous figuration of the scherzo was ideally suited to Tertis’s bold, masculine and dashing virtuosity and she launches its dynamism with superb aplomb. So too the finale, ripely done, and which ends sonorously and decisively. This is an excellent performance on its own terms. Collectors will have their old-timers on the shelves: Forbes and Foggin (a big favourite of mine, recorded on three Decca 78s), Downes and Cassini (Revolution), Vardi and Sturrock (he made another recording with Weinstock too), Jones and Hampton [LIR011], Lederer and Murray - as well as Outram and James Rolton. No Tertis though, which is a great loss. My hunch is that he would have taken it far faster even than Outram. Bliss always admired Tertis’s sense of ‘flow’ and this was a characteristic of his playing.
But we have no Tertis recording, and nor do we of his own arrangement of Delius’s Third Violin Sonata.This followed a few years after his similar work with Elgar’s Cello Concerto. It works perfectly well and is susceptible to breadth of phrasing and the rich exploration of the viola’s more melancholic tonal qualities. Enikö Magyar and Tadashi Imai - whose success in this disc, and in particular his splendid accomplishment in the taxing Bliss sonata - play the Delius in the modern manner; quite slowly and with rich cantilena. They bring out its autumnal, resigned qualities all the while imbued with a vibrant sense of its structure. What I miss is the contrast between moods. The central movement could be more capriciously drawn. Here the B section is very serious-minded. It’s of a piece with the stance as a whole but I think it lacks contrast. So too the finale, which most violinists these days don’t take con moto enough. The danger in this sonata is that of a ‘too samey’ tempo.
The disc is fleshed out by Bridge’s lovely morceaux. Only two, surprisingly enough, were written for viola - which was Bridge’s own instrument. He made a number of 78s as a quartet player. The Allegro appassionato and Pensiero are the original viola pieces - the former flowing and almost ecstatic, the latter warmly textured. The Berceuse is a songful envoi. They’re all characterised excellently by this enterprising duo.
Though this is not actually a tribute disc to Tertis it can serve as an adjunct to his argumentative but proselytizing genius for his instrument. More germane to this review it announces another highly impressive young violist and duo. Finally the Bliss recording is a strongly recommendable one and the Delius in its viola incarnation is rare.
The Indianapolis Star:
Viola in English gardens
Let’s put on our appropriate serious faces and stop beating the dead horse of viola jokes. Not too serious, but just serious enough to realize there is some good viola music out there that demands the best musicianship. Its crucial role in the string choir notwithstanding, the viola can come across just splendidly on its own.
Listen to “The English Viola” (Naxos) and glory in the sound of Eniko Magyar, with the sympathetic partnership of pianist Tadashi Imai, piano. A varied set of miniatures by Frank Bridge, though many of them first saw the light of day as violin pieces, are particularly charming and idiomatic. Somewhat more challenging is the inward-looking Violin Sonata No. 3 (as transcribed for viola by Lionel Tertis) of Frederick Delius.
The most rewarding selection is Arthur Bliss’ Viola Sonata, a 1933 work that brings out Magyar’s best playing. She inflects her phrases thoughtfully, varying her tone when useful to make different expressive points. She floats aloft great arcing lines in the romantic second movement and sinks her teeth into the boisterous “Furiant” third movement. The work’s unusual “Coda” movement presents a solemn summing up, moving to free fantasy by the end.
The Magyar-Imai partnership never fails to enchant in this vividly recorded music.
Jay Harvey, The Indianapolis Star January 2010
Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International February 2010
Classical Music Sentinel:
This is the debut CD of the young Hungarian viola player Eniko Magyar. She could have opted for easier material to test the waters of the recording world, but instead chose to dive right into the deep end of the pool by recording the demanding Viola Sonata by Sir Arthur Bliss. The opening movement immediately puts demands on the soloist with its long sweeping phrases and nervous energy. Twists and turns abound throughout as the harmonic development takes many different paths before settling down at the end. All this boundless energy is very well put across by Eniko Magyar. In the slower second movement, she brings out the viola's rich and deep-toned qualities as well as its singing beauty in the highest registers. The following movement (Furiant: Molto Allegro) with its rapid fire energy and odd 6/16 time signature, would put any musician to the test, but Eniko just seems to thrill in the laborious demands, both technical and emotional, that the music commands. The Sonata ends with a dark and brooding Andante in which the soloist brings out the beautiful plaintive nature of the viola. One of Eniko Magyar's teachers was Martin Outram who has also recorded this work, which probably explains the ease with which she has mastered such a thorny and demanding piece of music.
The viola arrangement of the Frederick Delius Violin Sonata No. 3 follows and instantly the mood of the music becomes more lyrical, more relaxed and melodic. Surprising when you consider the conditions under which this work was composed. This piece was composed 4 years before Delius died, and was actually dictated for his secretary to annotate and write down, because by then the effects of syphilis had reached the point where he was paralysed and blind. But yet the music contains the typical pastoral beauty that comes naturally to Delius. Eniko Magyar demonstrates the music's flowing nature very well, with soaring lines and a glowing tone throughout.
The remaining six pieces on the disc are all short miniature pieces by Frank Bridge, and are far removed from the sound world of Arthur Bliss. These could all be used as 'encore' pieces following a recital, simply because of their pleasant, lyrical and melodic nature. They should not be considered 'light' fare though, as some of them, like Souvenir and Pensiero are perfectly matched to the viola's beauty by their melancholic style. All of these miniatures are played with sensitivity and passion by Eniko Magyar, and given the same importance as the more demanding works.
The deep and resonant sound of the viola is well captured and reproduced in this Naxos recording. Tadashi Imai offers strong support on the piano throughout every piece, and the booklet notes are very informative on the composers as well as the performers involved. All in all a captivating foray into the sound world of the viola, as seen through the eyes of English composers who have found a master exponent of their music in Eniko Magyar.
Jean-Yves Duperron, Classicalmusicsentinel.com November 2009
David's Review Corner:
Hungarian by birth, British by adoption, Eniko Magyar belongs to a recently emerging group who are taking the art of the viola to a new level of excellence. Often the butt of musical humour, the viola as a solo instrument has often tempted great composers in the past to write for the virtuosos of the day, though the available repertoire is still limited. That British composers were tempted to its very special qualities largely stems from the great exponent, Lionel Tertis, and among those famous names was Arthur Bliss, who wrote this admirable sonata for him.Rhapsodic in nature, and using the full scope of the instrument, Magyar’s tight vibrato draws such gorgeous sounds from her Giovanni Grancino in the warm andelegiac slow movement. Then she unleashes a stunning display of agility in the following Furiant and in the concluding Andante maestoso. The Delius transcription was authorised by the composer who was given a private performance of the solo by Tertis before publication. It fits well onto the viola fingerboard, though it does becomes a very different work in its overall sound. Starting out from a very different position, Frank Bridge was a viola player by trade, though to ensure the sale of his sheet music he wrote either for violin or cello, only later arranging some of his salon pieces for viola. Of the seven tracks here recorded only two are original viola scores. They vary in content from the dramatic Norse Legend to the light music of Gondoliera, and, while not revelatory works, they are all very agreeable.Exemplary intonation, clean articulation and a ready kinship with the British music idiom, Magyar is admirably accompanied by multi-award winning concert Japanese concert pianist, Tadashi Imai.
David Denton, David's Review Corner, November 2009
Die Emanzipation der Viola gehört zu jenen musikalischen Entwicklungen des 20. Jahrhunderts, die vergleichsweise still erfolgten. Eine Reihe von Interpreten (William Primrose, Lionel Tertis), Komponisten (Bela Bartok, Bohuslav Martinu, William Walton) sowie Paul Hindemith in seiner Doppelfunktion verhalfen dem oft geschmähten Streichinstrument zu einer allmählichen Aufwertung. Heute existiert eine beachtliche Zahl von Solowerken, Konzerten und Kammermusikstücken für die Bratsche, herausragende Musiker wie Tabea Zimmermann, Kim Kashkashian oder Yuri Bashmet stehen gleichberechtigt neben anderen Instrumental-Solisten.
Unter dem Titel ‚English Music for Viola' haben Enikö Magyar und der Pianist Tadashi Imai drei Stücke eingespielt, die eng mit der Viola-Legende Tertis verbunden sind. Zur 1933 entstandenen Sonate von Arthur Bliss steuerte Tertis wertvolle Ratschläge bei. Die dritte Violinsonate von Frederick Delius arrangierte er für sein Instrument. Von kleinerem Zuschnitt, aber nicht weniger reizvoll sind die sieben Stücke für Viola und Klavier aus der Feder des Britten-Lehrers Frank Bridge. Alle drei Komponisten teilten schon zu Lebzeiten das Schicksal, au?erhalb ihrer Heimat relativ unbekannt gewesen zu sein. Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg gerieten sie fast völlig in Vergessenheit, und erst in neuester Zeit entdeckt man ihre Werke wieder. So erhält diese CD einen gleichsam doppelten Repertoirewert: Ein lange Zeit belächeltes Instrument steht im Mittelpunkt mit Stücken vernachlässigter Tondichter.
Wer bei dieser Ausgangslage ein bestenfalls durchschnittliches Ergebnis erwartet, wird von Magyar und Imai schon in den ersten Takten der Bliss-Sonate widerlegt. Der Tondichter schuf hier ein abwechslungsreiches und kurzweiliges Werk, das der Viola-Spielerin viel abverlangt und auch den Pianisten voll fordert. Die beiden Musiker sind der Sonate in allen vier Abschnitten gewachsen, besonders gelungen ist ihnen der rhythmisch vertrackte und harmonisch sehr farbige Kopfsatz. Aber auch der rasante 'Furiant' an dritte Stelle kann als virtuoses Vorzeigestück überzeugen. Bliss gelang es, die Bratsche leicht in den Vordergrund zu stellen, ohne das Klavier zum reinen Begleitinstrument zu degradieren. Ganz ähnlich verfuhren die Klangtechniker bei der Aufnahme: Magyars Instrument wirkt etwas näher als das Klavier, der Gesamteindruck bleibt aber stimmig. Dies gilt auch für Delius' Sonate, ein dreisätziges und deutlich kürzeres Werk. Raffiniert verschmolz der Komponist das Scherzo und den langsamen Satz zu einem 'Andante scherzando'. Es ist schwer zu beurteilen, ob durch Tertis’ Bearbeitung ein Stück der ursprünglichen Wirkung verloren ging. Imai ist hier nicht so sehr gleichberechtigter Partner wie bei Bliss, sondern muss oft der Viola den Vortritt lassen. Erneut wirkt der erste Satz am gelungensten: Magyar bringt die lyrisch- elegische Seite ihres Instrumentes bestens zur Geltung. Die beiden anderen Abschnitte wirken etwas schwächer, doch sicher und geschmackvoll musiziert wird jede Sekunde.
Die sieben Bridge-Stücke stehen in ihrer Ausdrucksvielfalt hinter den beiden anderen Werken nicht zurück.Magyar kann im 'Allegro appassionato’ (Track 8) erneut ihre Virtuosität unter Beweis stellen, die 'Norse Legend' (Track 13) verblüfft durch ihren melodischen Einfallsreichtum. Imai setzt sich dort in Szene, wo es ihm möglich ist, sonst trägt er den bisweilen etwas undankbaren Begleiter-Part mit Fassung. Dass Bridge kompositorisch Wesentliches zu sagen hatte, machen die beiden Musiker unmissverständlich klar. Diese CD spricht somit eine Vielzahl von Musikfreunden an: Liebhaber exzellenter Kammermusik, Anhänger der Viola und jene Hörer, die – völlig zu Recht – vermuten, dass die britische Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts viel mehr zu bieten hatte als nur Elgar und Britten. Einziger kleiner Wermutstropfen der Veröffentlichung ist der nur auf Englisch vorhandene Beiheft-Text.
In contrast to other musical developments seen by the 20th Century, the viola’s emancipation remained outside the limelight. A string of interpreters (William Primrose, Lionel Tertis), composers (Bela Bartok, Bohuslav Martinu, William Walton) and Paul Hindemith in his dual function helped the often ridiculed string instrument to a gradual enhancement of its status. Today there is a respectable number of solo works, concertos and chamber music pieces for the viola, and outstanding musicians such as Tabea Zimmermann, Kim Kashkashian or Yuri Bashmet have equal standing to other instrumental soloists.
Under the title ‘English Music for Viola’, Enikö Magyar and pianist Tadashi Imai have recorded three pieces that are closely connected to viola-legend Tertis. Tertis contributed valuable advice to Arthur Bliss' Sonata, composed in 1933. Tertis arranged Frederick Delius’ third Violin Sonata for his own instrument. Of less calibre, but no less delightful, are the seven pieces for viola and piano composed by Britten’s teacher Frank Bridge. Already during their lifetimes, all three composers shared the fate of being relatively unknown outside of their home country. After World War II they were almost completely forgotten, with their works only being rediscovered in recent times. This doubles the value of the CD's repertoire: a long-ridiculed instrument takes the stage with pieces by neglected composers.
Whoever expects at most an average result will be surprised by Magyar and Imai after the first few beats of the Bliss Sonata. The composer created a varied and entertaining piece which demands a great deal from the violist, and also requires the utmost of the pianist. Both musicians meet the challenges presented by all four movements of the Sonata. Particularly their interpretation of the first movement, with its complicated rhythms and colourful harmonies, is very convincing. The rapid ‘Furiant’ in the third movement is also exemplary through its virtuosic quality. Bliss succeeded in putting the viola slightly in the foreground without degrading the piano to a mere accompanying instrument. This was mirrored by the way the sound technicians chose to record this piece: Magyar’s instrument sounds somewhat closer than the piano, with the overall impression remaining harmonious. This also applies to Delius’ Sonata, a significantly shorter three-part work. The composer artfully fused the scherzo and the slow movement to form the 'Andante scherzando'. It is difficult to determine whether a part of the original effect was lost through Tertis’ transcription. Compared to the Bliss Sonata, Imai is less of an equal partner and must often defer to the viola. Again, the first movement is most convincing: Magyar shows off her instrument’s lyrical-elegiac side to its best advantage. The other two movements come across as somewhat weaker, but the music is played confidently and tastefully through to the last second.
With their expressive diversity, the seven Bridge pieces do not pale in comparison to the other two works. Magyar is again able to prove her virtuosity in the 'Allegro appassionato’ (Track 8), with 'Norse Legend' (Track 13) astounding listeners through its melodic imaginativeness. Imai showcases his skills where possible, otherwise bearing the somewhat unrewarding accompanist role with dignity. Both musicians unequivocally convey the expressiveness of Bridge’s composition. This CD appeals to a diverse range of music friends: lovers of excellent chamber music, viola fans, and those listeners who rightfully presume that 20th Century British music has more to offer than just Elgar and Britten.
The only minor shortcoming of the release is that the CD sleeve is only written in English.
Michael Loos, Klassik.com January 2010
.... And speaking of languishing: the viola did so for centuries, suffering neglect as the smaller violin dominated both solo and orchestral playing. To a great extent, it was in Imperial Britain that the viola’s neglect began to be reversed, in large part with Walton’s Viola Concerto but in even larger part because of the renowned and long-lived violist, Lionel Tertis (1876-1975). It was for Tertis that Walton wrote his concerto in 1929 – and Tertis also had a huge influence on other British composers, even making a viola arrangement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto of which the composer approved. Sir Arthur Bliss wrote his Viola Sonata for Tertis in 1933 and dedicated it to Tertis “in admiration.” It is in fact an admirable work, moving from lyricism to solemnity to a scherzo-finale in the decidedly odd (and rather engaging) time signature of 6/16; and it is very well played in the new recording by the distinctly international pair of Enikö Magyar and Tadashi Imai. They also do a fine job with Tertis’ 1932 arrangement of Frederick Delius’ Violin Sonata No. 3, which Tertis played for the blind and nearly paralyzed composer (who died in 1934). The Delius work’s simplicity and lovely flow fit the viola quite well. And then, for an encore – or rather a series of them – Magyar and Imai offer seven short works by Frank Bridge, who was a violist but generally wrote brief pieces for violin or cello (which he later arranged for viola). The selections here, only two of which started out as viola pieces, date from 1901- 8 and are quite varied in mood, with Magyar’s lithe and lovely playing giving each its due. Interestingly, there is a slight irony to Magyar’s considerable success with the music on this CD. She is Hungarian – indeed, the name “Magyar” means “Hungary” – and as it happens, the one 20th- century viola concerto that stands as an equal to Walton’s was written by one of Hungary’s greatest composers, Béla Bartók.