Released on Channel Classics Records, 2014 (CCSSA 35714)
Works for solo viola
5 de Diapason *****
Video: Viola player Dana Zemtsov plays Michael Kugel's Prelude - Ysaye in an enigmatic setting.
Although viola player Dana Zemtsov is only twenty two years old and she’s just starting her career, she sounds on ‘Enigma-Works for solo Viola‘ as a full musician. She has a powerful and personal way a playing. Her musical interpretation and clear expression are convinced with a snoring and shining viola. Zemtsov got lessons from the Belgium based Russian viola player Michael Kugel who wrote two exciting compositions on this album (‘Prelude-Ysaye’ see youtube). Above all, he arranged the ‘Recitatievo Scherzo‘ of Fritz Kreisler. A work originally written for solo violin but arranged for viola (5 tones lower), which makes the piece sound more immersive. Zemtsov suggest beautiful a whole string orchestra here. Especially fine is also the ‘Viola Sonate op. 25‘ of composer and viola player Paul Hindemith. An exposé in which Dana shows the diversity of the viola. We also hear the lyrical composition ‘Hommaga à Paganini‘ of Henri Vieuwtemps, a piece by Penderecki(with impressive double tones), a composition of Stravinsky and a solo work for harpsichord written by J.S. Bach arranged for viola. Although it’s really adventurous to release a (début) record for viola solo, ‘Enigma-Works for solo Viola‘ is an excellent album for this wonderful instrument. (Mattie Poels)
While talented young pianists, violinists and cellists are promoted on disc with predictable regularity, solo violists have been something of a rare breed (though recently this does appear to be changing) so the discovery of a player of the quality of Dana Zemtsov is a real find.22 yr old Dana Zemtsov was born in Mexico City to a musical family. At the age of 5 she received her first music lessons from her grandmother and from her parents, who are both viola players and she is currently studying with the viola virtuoso Michael Kugel, two of whose compositions appear on this disc together with his transcriptions of works by Fritz Kreisler and JS Bach.The programme she has chosen for this recital is a challenging one, as she herself admits in the liner notes, and certainly features works of a predominantly dark nature. For example, the Kreisler ‘Recitativo and Scherzo Caprice’ that is the first item on the disc is a dramatic and gritty piece far removed from his more familiar sugary Viennese salon items.Stravinsky’s ‘Elegy for Solo Viola’ – his only solo work for this instrument – was written in 1944 as a memorial to Alphonse Onnou the leader of the Pro Arte Quartet who had died in 1940. It is a sombre and austere piece that makes a moving impression in Zemtsov’s nuanced performance. Hindemith’s Viola Sonatas are accepted as some of the the peaks of the viola repertoire and there are many fine recordings of them including those by the composer himself. Dana Zemtsov’s powerful performance of the Sonata Op. 25 No. 1 is gripping in its intensity. The colour and range of expression that she elicits from her instrument is astonishing. The fourth movement of the Sonata, with Hindemith’s notorious marking of ‘Rasendes Zeitmass. Wild. Tonschönheit ist Nebensache’ (Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of tone is of a secondary consideration), sounds like a swarm of angry bees and is delivered at a hair-raising tempo. By contrast, she is equally capable of expressing the melancholic melodic sweetness of Capriccio ‘Hommage àPaganini’ in C minor by Henri Vieuxtemps, where her warm and expressive cantilena is beautifully conveyed by the recording.Dana Zemtsov is not fazed by the considerable technical and interpretive challenges of the remainder of her eclectic programme that includes the ‘Sonata-Poème’ and ‘Prelude-Ysaÿe’ by her teacher Michael Kugel and Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Cadenza’. The final item on the disc is Zoltán Kodály’s superb transcription of Bach’s ‘Chromatic Fantasia’, here given a performance that demonstrates this artist’s virtuosity and fine musicianship in equal measure.It need hardly be said that both the production and engineering of this 5.0 DSD recording from Jared Sack is of the highest quality. The rich tonal quality of Zemtsov’s instrument is enhanced by the fine acoustic of the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer where the recording was made a year ago.This is a remarkably successful first solo recital from an artist with a most promising future so if the programme on offer here appeals do not hesitate.
I remember years ago when it was almost impossible to find any albums with viola, let alone a solo release! When Pinchas Zukerman released his Columbia recording of Baroque viola concertos (now a classic) the thrills just wouldn’t stop; though violists refused to believe that a mere violin player could tackle their instrument with such passion, technique, and unbelievably rich tonal opulence, most rejoiced. At least a barrier had been broken, and we could all look forward to something besides the miscellaneous album with Walter Trampler or another “name” violist being included as part of an ensemble or as the occasional filler.But it’s a new day today, and up and coming sensation Dana Zemtsov has given us a fine album that never dulls, never bores, and shows just how rich the instrument really is—and all this without an accompanist. The pieces here save two—the opening and closing numbers by Kreisler and Bach—were all written for the instrument, and show just how versatile it can be both technically and emotionally. Most of the pieces are fittingly on the “dark” side, as the very nature of the instrument lends itself to a burnished tonal foundation, but the technical aspects cannot be denied. All one has to do is listen to the marvelous Hindemith Sonata, or Penderecki’s 1984 Cadenza (an addendum to his Concerto, written just a year earlier), or the Kugel Sonata-Poeme to understand just how wide-ranging the viola—so often hidden in the inner harmonic recesses of the orchestra—can perform.As I have mentioned umpteen times, surround sound is a perfect vehicle for solo instruments, and so the case is made here, with Channel’s superb engineering coming to the fore and manifesting Zemtsov’s amazing playing and beautiful tone with depth and luxuriant resonance. This is well worth the outlay, and I suspect that not a few people will come away with a new aural image of the viola ingrained in their minds.
‘Enigma’ is not a collection of the most jocular pieces – the viola isn’t an inherently cheerful instrument – but there is no doubt that it leaves the listener with as much enjoyment of what they have just heard as a lack of understanding why the the viola is so overlooked as a solo instrument.