Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Viola

The other day I said some things that might be misinterpreted as derogatory towards that lovely instrument the viola. In many ways the Cinderella among stringed instruments, it has very few well-known solo works in its repertoire: the best known are Berlioz’s ‘Harold in Italy’ and the concerto by William Walton.

I don’t know if it was a guilty conscience that prompted me, but today I listened to Mozart’s ‘Sinfonia Concertante’ — actually a concerto for violin and viola, demanding a greater rapport between the two solo instruments than in an extended operatic duet — twice; once after breakfast and once after dinner. I’m afraid that as it was on my watch-sized MP3 player I no longer know whose recording it was, but it was a very good one.

The work shows the viola at its best. I said viola players are odd: perhaps they are, but perhaps their oddity consists in an unfashionable humility; a lack of the desire to be the big solo star; a willingness to co-operate with other players and not try to outshine them. Perhaps it’s viola players who really hold string quartets - the single malts of serious music -  together.

Or perhaps it’s just that the Sinfonia Concertante is one of Mozart’s greatest orchestral works. Anyway, anyone who ever felt or said anything ‘witty’ about the viola (the difference between it and the violin is that it takes slightly longer to burn) should listen — twice a day — to this work.

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