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Posted January 5, 2012
Vladimir Ashkenazy is perhaps best known as a world-class pianist, but this recording certainly makes the case that he should have been a conductor – on the podium (at least on this recording) he is a monster! And coupled with David Aaron Carpenter’s virtuosic Viola playing, this is must-have disc.
The first piece is Hector Berlioz’ “Overture to Beatrice et Benedict, Op. 27”, and it is rollicking, fun, and a real joy to listen to. As indicated in the liner notes, the audience of the time must have known that a comedy was certainly to follow. The next piece is “Harold in Italy (Symphony with Viola obbligato), Op. 16” and it is stunning. Mr. Carpenter chooses to play the version of the solo part that was explicitly written for Paganini, appropriate given that the piece itself was commissioned by Paganini as he had just been given a Stradivari viola and wanted something to play on it! This four movement work certainly delivers, at times sensitive, then blindingly fast – a real tour-de-force for the gifted soloist, and Mr. Carpenter delivers. It is also the case that Mr. Ashkenazy insures that the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is a fitting partner, insuring that the soloist shines while at the same time driving the musical organism forward. This is a fantastic performance.
The other selection on the disc is the “Sonata per la Gran Viola e Orchestra, Op. 35”, written by Paganini himself after he realized that “Harold in Italy” would not provide quite the opportunity for showmanship that he sought. This piece is full of vim, vigor, harmonics, and fireworks. This listener is envious of the lucky individuals that got to hear this first-hand from Paganini’s viola. Each variation in the 3rd movement has something new to offer, and demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt that the viola is a powerful instrument in the hands of the gifted – and David Aaron Carpenter certainly fits that description.
This disc is fantastic from the first track to the last. Very Highly Recommended!