It was violist Paul Neubauer's turn to perform at the Park City International Music Festival Friday. The result? Probably the finest viola recital to be heard in these parts since, well, the last time Neubauer performed here.
Surely this must be one of the great viola talents in the world today, with a musical maturity that belies his youth. Indeed, technique is so good you seldom think about it - all the more remarkable when one realizes that not all this music was even written for the viola.Take Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata, the name referring to the instrument it was composed for, sort of a short-lived combination of the guitar and the gamba. These days it is mostly performed on the cello, though I have heard arrangements for flute and clarinet.
But you didn't think about that either Friday, as Neubauer's playing lifted this melodious work above such considerations. With pianist Doris Stevenson at the keyboard, this performance had strength, sensitivity (with some amazingly easeful transitions) but most of all songfulness. And that was true from the initially subdued first movement to the dancing virility of the finale, its main theme more affecting each time around.
Vienna of a later era and yet another instrument were evoked via two Fritz Kreisler violin pieces, first the wistful regret of "Liebesleid," with its bittersweet vibrato and stylish little skips and rhythmic catches, then the soaring virtuosity of "La Gitana," even its electrifying trills not quite covering its nostalgia and heart.
These were slid into by way of the "Romance" from the Op. 2 Suite for Viola and Piano of Benjamin James Dale, its darkly emotive opening giving way to writing of almost Korngoldian sweetness.
But the standout viola piece on this program was the Op. 25, No. 1, Sonata of Paul Hindemith, the second of four unaccompanied sonatas he wrote for the instrument. As such they occupy a place in this century analogous to the unaccompanied Bach violin and cello sonatas of two centuries earlier.
Here, moreover, the music's stature was indisputable, as Neubauer dug first into the repeated three-note figure that opens the piece and then into its emotional byways, pulling one into both the aggressiveness of the second movement and the hypnotic concentration of the third, its multiple stops sounding almost like two violas.
Conversely the agitated buzz of the raging fourth movement set bow hairs flying (though, contrary to the marking, to my ears tone did not suffer). After which the soloist sank solemnly into the finale, with its almost anguished expression.
All this was followed by a performance of Dvorak's "American" Quartet in which Neubauer was joined by violinists Kerry McDermott and Philippe Djokic and cellist Ellen Bridger.
Here tone did spread at times, though not in the middle registers. But for all its lyric intensity, there was nothing as distinguised or as well-meshed as what had gone before - i.e., it was still his night.