Exploring 'Colour and the Viola'
Wimbledon International Music Festival
BLOCH AND THE VIOLA. This dialogue between preeminent violist Rivka Golani and the renowned scholar Alexander Knapp on various aspects of the Bloch's works for viola includes excerpts from Golani's live and recorded performances.
10th September by Gramfon Magazine
More than 250 music pieces have been composed for her including concertos in excess of eighty. The BBC Music Magazine, one of the most respected ones the subject ranks her among the 200 most significant instrumental musicians, and is also among the top five violists still regularly playing on stage. Yes, she is Rivka Golani confidently claimed to be one of the most many-sided world star violists of our age. She is a typical cosmopolitan: her parents come from Poland, but she herself was born in Tel-Aviv, but spent years in Canada, and these days she leaves from London to play in the world’s major concert halls. She also has Hungarian ties. After giving up playing the violin at the age 21, and settling for the viola for the rest of her life she sought out and found the best teacher in the person of Ödön Pártos. The object that is certainly the most important in her life, the viola custom-made for her praises the skills of the master instrument maker, her first husband Ottó Erdész. The instrument accompanies the artist along her career, and she plays it even on the present CD. She plays with her violin accompanist Zsuzsa Kollár on a double-disc publication mostly pieces by Kreisler-, Elgar- and Dvořák, but the thirty-five small pieces also include pieces by Drdla, Brahms, Gärtner, Hubay. and Schumann. Thus the miniature compositions on the CDs span a period of about a century and a half. They are all short works, typical character pieces, utterances of a few minutes oozing with colour, atmosphere, and poetry. Some are heard often as encore pieces frequently played by violinists. Thanks to Golani’s efforts as transcriber we may familiarize with these brief aphorisms. The viola’s timbre, very close to human voice somewhat changes the character of the pieces originally intended for the violin: they become more velvety, perhaps softer, or just more melancholic. Of course these new impressions require the right performers, namely those open to presenting a variety of moods, sensitive to the life sentiments formulated by the composers, and having a sense of musical colour which they employ to paint a large number of genre images. By playing these pieces Golani displays to the audience her shimmering although never autotelic virtuosity, her lyric character, and her elegance as performer. Her multiple talents are proven on the cover showing the work of a viola artist, who is, at the same time also a gifted painter.
5th May by Kristóf Csengery / Revizor
CD publishers of small countries are, in the nature of things not like those of large countries. While the latter select from performers worldwide, companies of smaller countries hire mostly domestic orchestras, chamber ensembles, conductors, singers, and instrumental soloists, and that is indeed what they should do. Of course, that is not a rule graven in stone, and in fact exemptions abound. An example is one of Hungaroton’s recent discs on which a heavy weight international artist plays.
Internationally noted viola player Rivka Golani, 74, was born in Tel Aviv, but his father escaped from Warsaw to Israel after losing his family in the holocaust. Her mother was a Pole from Galicia. Despite this background the excellent musician has also strong ties with Hungary, or, better, to Hungarians because when he changed from violin to viola at the age of 21 Hungarian viola player and composer Ödön Pártos, also an important figure of the music life of Israel, former student of Hubay and Kodály became his teacher. Later on, when she got married her first husband was Hungarian instrument maker Ottó Erdész. He made her the viola that she played for the rest of her career, and which she also plays on this CD.
Rivka Golani is one of the artists who, over the past decades of international music life did the most to present and promote contemporary music: more than 300 pieces were composed for her, and more than 80 of these are concertos. This disc, too, is an illustration of her passion for innovation as – although the 35 small compositions on the two CDs are from the workshop of Kreisler, Elgar, Dvořák, Drdla, Brahms, Schumann, and Gärtner, and thus they represent the 19th, and the first part of the 20th century – all of these pieces were originally written for both violin and piano, and the performer herself transcribed them for the viola.
The apparently heterogenous list of composers represents a truly homogeneous set in terms of standard, genres and sentiments. One may label the works in a variety of ways. They may be called encore pieces, but they include album pages, romance, dance, fantasy, single-movement serenades, while the essence remains the same: poetry enshrined in music, the depiction of moods and character as the utmost artistic aim, and all this is realized in a uniform manner, and within the bounds of aphoristic compactness in each of the works. Are these small works? Yes, but the representatives of this ‘minute-poetry’ include many well-known, and memorable music pieces with profound, and intimate moments. There are of course elegant compositions as well, and there is also a great deal of rural touch, and we also hear virtuosic pieces cropping up composed for maximum effect; lightness is not alien to one or other of the compositions, especially in the movements by Kreisler, who also has the strongest inclination for transcribing and re-working the gems of foreign composers of the most varied kind from Granados to Tchaikovsky, and from Gluck to Chaminade to use his magic to turn their music into admirable and poetic violin pieces. As a matter of fact some were even originally violin pieces, but Kreisler, this great performer transforms of course even these to his own image and, in his likeness.
What is the value added to these violin works now that they are played by the viola? The answer might sound strange at first: the human touch the atmosphere of intimacy, the possibility of sounding like human voice as much as permitted by instrumental music. It is quite a special phenomenon that as one starts to move ‘down’ from the violin in the family of strings one finds two instruments whose register is much closer to the human voice than that of the violin: one is the viola, and the other the cello. The bass already breaks the sequence, but the two instruments of ‘low middle register’ can ‘speak’ very well using informal style, and addressing the listener face-to-face. Meanwhile the violin – unlike the other two – is inclined to climb up on some pulpit to address humankind from there.
Rivka Golani’s artistic grandeur becomes apparent in many ways during the performance of these movements. The first feature one notices is the instrumental sound. It is not ostentatiously rich, and never produced by pressure as with some fellow musicians, rather, it gently evanishes, and melts. Once in a while it displays a certain scratchiness, but even that pleasantly reinforces our feeling that the musician we hear playing is exempt from boastfulness. All that brings with it a natural achievement of instrumental elegance in the different movements all visually intriguing, and requiring great technical mastery. Golani’s virtuosity is not demonstrative, not manufactured, but understood. We definitely have to notice her openness to the multiplicity of characters, the diversity of tones, and her complete receptiveness to feelings life conveyed by tiny music pieces. We hear small works but in grand performance, minute-poetry, but with permanent validity. The viola artist’ piano accompanist and worthy partner on the two CDs is the sensitive, and adaptive Zsuzsa Kollár. To round up the experience associated to the CD we must add that the CD cover shows a fragment of one of the paintings of Golani, also a practitioner of fine art.