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Viola Swirl

Music Web International, 2010

Jonathan Woolf

Odd name for a disc - perhaps it refers to the elegant carpentry of the instrument, its swanlike curve. But as usual Crystal comes up with a programme that is unique and entertaining if a little short at fifty-two minutes. And as so often with Crystal artists the Rodland-Mokatsian duo is devoted to propagating new work and doing so with taste and discrimination. Kenji Bunch's Suite was written in 1998. Bunch is himself a violist so knows the instrument intimately. It's a five-movement suite, ranging from romantic, rather rhapsodic Bloch-like expression to a kind of Piazzolla-cum-jazz profile in the "silly" (the composer's work) pizzicato-laced second movement. The core of the work is the Lament - soft dynamics, and affecting as we enter the cadenza. Dan Coleman, an almost exact contemporary of Bunch, contributes Summer a "bittersweet love song." It's a useful and important feature of Crystal's documentation that, wherever possible, the composers contribute thir own notes, so we can take it on Coleman's own authority that he means the piece to begin innocently and then increasingly to fragment and diverge. The nature imagery and associated bell chimes are part of this narrative scenery; and so are the moments when the lines frown longer and more fractious, when the answering phrases between the two instruments becomes ever less cordial. Flow, My Tears was written in memoriam for Christopher Theofanidis's mentor, the composer Jacob Druckman. It embraces pitch bending and takes the viola up vertiginously high on the fingerboard, but ultimately suggests a lyric, and stoic, intimacy that perhaps deliberately evokes Britten's Lachrymae. After which it's time to let down one's hair with Gershwin and Porter. I Got Rhythm has a bluesy, slow tempo tension, and then really opens up, though I wish that the arranger Deborah Holden-Holloway (I assume it's her) hadn't introduced a quotation from Stormy Weather. Begin the Beguine, arranged by Kenji Bunch, is a nuanced and superior arrangement and is full of harmonic interest. There's some Ragtime left over for Anything Goes. Odd name or not, this is an enjoyable disc. It's been sympathetically recorded in a good but frustratingly unnamed location. This is one aspect where Crystal could do more, as many of the their releases come bereft of recording details. I shouldn't complain because it's less for me to type but, as the magazine has it, I think we should be told.