Vadim Borisovsky, an acquaintance of Prokofiev and one of the Soviet Union's leading violists and pedagogues, made eight of the transcriptions here with the composer's approval. Later on he fashioned five more, two of them calling for a second violist. This Naxos collection adds an additional three transcriptions fashioned by David Grunes (Masks and Dance of the Lily Maidens) and by the main performers here, Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton (Death of Tybalt). The transcriptions were derived from the three suites which Prokofiev extracted from his masterly ballet. All the arrangements are splendidly realized, with the exception of Dance with the Mandolins, which strikes me as a bit awkward. The order of the numbers has been rearranged to follow the chronology of events in the ballet, a wise decision.
Violist Matthew Jones conveys a fine sense for both Prokofiev's lyrical music and his more acerbic side. He has the good judgment not to rush the love theme in the Balcony Scene, as do many pianists (playing Prokofiev's own piano transcription) and conductors: they often read the "animato" marking as a signal to press down hard on the accelerator. Jones' account of Romeo at Friar Laurence's is delivered beautifully and the Death of Mercutio (which is taken directly from the ballet, not from one of Prokofiev's suites) is also very compellingly rendered. Excitement abounds in the next number, Death of Tybalt, as Jones displays his considerable technical skills, as well as some deliciously nasty sul ponticello playing. Bravo!
Michael Hampton plays his part well throughout the disc, making you wonder that he may well be good choice for recording some of the Prokofiev concertos or sonatas. Rivka Golani performs well in the two numbers requiring a second viola.
Naxos' sound is excellent and their notes informative. Now the question is, would such an offbeat disc appeal to a wide audience? To me, I found these transcriptions utterly refreshing, despite my initial skepticism. In many ways these accounts actually rival the originals. Morning Dance, for example, effervesces delightfully here; Masks has an infectious playful quality; and the tragedy in Parting Scene and Death of Juliet comes through with a powerful sense of loss. In sum, this is a most unusual and worthwhile disc that should appeal to more than just viola mavens.
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings