The viola has always been an overlooked solo instrument (having been a viola player myself). No great composers of the 19th Century wrote concertos for it and it was only in Mozart and Beethoven quartets that the instrument really started to shine as a melodic force in its own right. The Bartok and Walton concertos catapulted it into the big time during the 20th Century but it was Paganini, the greatest violin virtuoso of the early 19th Century, who started the ball rolling nearly 180 years ago when he asked Berlioz for a work to show off his 1731 Stradivarius viola.
Unfortunately, Berlioz and Paganini’s ideas did not quite mesh and when Paganini saw the score of Harold he was appalled at the huge number of bars rest he had in the viola part. He lost interest in the work and Harold in Italy was premiered in Paris in 1834 without Paganini’s participation and has become Berlioz’ 2nd Symphony, although totally different to his Fantastique of 3 years earlier.
David Aaron Carpenter has restored the original viola part that Paganini rejected and gives a beautiful performance of this neglected work with excellent support from the Helsinki Philharmonic and Ashkanazy.
For lovers of the viola and also stylish and fine string playing in general it is well worth a look.
Ondine ODE 1188 – 2
Total Playing Time: 01:04:07