American Record Guide, March/April, 2009
“The performances excel. Roger Chase’s playing is remarkable.”
BATE: Viola Concerto;
BELL: Viola Concerto;
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Romance
Roger Chase, BBC Concert Orchestra/Stephen Bell
Finally getting to review the excellent English violist Roger Chase is cause for celebration. Even more cause for celebration is the excellent Viola Concerto by British composer Stanley Bate (1911-59). The concerto was written in America in the mid-1940s in hopes that William Primrose would perform it. When Primrose declined, Emanuel Vardi stepped in and it had its premiere with the NBC Symphony on June 15, 1947.
It is a very strong work that grabs the listener’s attention from the opening bars and sustains interest. It was clearly inspired by William Walton’s magnificent Viola Concerto (itself inspired by Prokofieff’s Violin Concerto 1), and the brief, mercurial, scherzo-like III is modeled after the middle movement of the Walton.
Tough as this movement is, Chase handles it brilliantly. The slow movement has a spiritual quality, and after a long orchestral introduction the viola enters in a quiet meditative mood. It is joined first by the woodwinds, then the strings, then the whole orchestra — gorgeous. The finale begins slowly and imposingly, and this slow material alternates with faster material. I wish this could become part of the standard viola repertoire. While I wouldn’t put it in the same league as Walton’s Viola Concerto or Hindemith’s Schwanendreher, I’ve heard too many viola concertos that are far inferior to this one. Everyone who loves the viola should get this recording and play it for his friends.
The Romance by Vaughan Williams (Bate’s composition teacher) is a work for viola and piano that was discovered after the composer’s death. It is a lovely if not quite top-drawer piece, and Chase’s arrangement with orchestra is very effective. William Henry Bell (1873-1946) was born and trained in England and immigrated to South Africa in 1912. Four years later he composed this concerto, titled Rosa Mystica. The score is prefaced by two verses from the 15th Century carol ‘The Flower of Jesse’ by John Audelay. There is no obviously religious quality in the music. It is a good concerto, very enjoyable, but it doesn’t have the drama and sense of occasion that the Bate does.
Except for some faltering intonation at some points in the Bell (from fatigue? Chase plays the famous 17-l/8-inch-long viola of 1717 by Domenico Montagnana that belonged to Lionel Terns. My own viola is 17 inches, so I know what your left hand feels like after a few hours of playing an instrument that size) Chase’s playing is top-notch technically and musically. It is also a great pleasure to hear this magnificent instrument so skillfully played and so well recorded.
Dutton 7216-75 minutes