“Of all the instruments in the orchestra,” wrote Hector Berlioz in his Grand Trait d'Instrumentation et d'Orchestration Moderne, “the one whose excellent qualities have been misappreciated is the viola. It is no less agile than the violin, the sound of its strings is particularly telling, its upper notes are distinguished by their mournfully passionate accent, and its quality of tone altogether, of a profound melancholy, differs from that of other instruments played by a bow”. It is no surprise that even in Berlioz’ time, more and more demanding, original compositions and arrangements for viola(s) were written – a charming repertoire that the 12 violists of the Berliner Philharmoniker have devoted themselves to.
Their evening begins with the Ave Maria from Giuseppe Verdi’s Pezzi sacri , based on the “enigmatic scale” of Adolfo Crescentini. The Italian music professor had published the chromatic line in the Gazzetta musicale di Milano, requesting composers to harmonize it. After the Ave Maria, there follows the Fantasia Quartet by York Bowen, written for the unusual formation of four violas, and whose composer was described by no less than Camille Saint-Saëns as “the most unusual young British composer”. The arrangement for eight violas of Rossini’s Barber overture, a musical treat, is followed by other viola works, including: Kenneth Harding’s Rondo Capriccio for six violas and Benjamin James Dale’s Introduction and Andante op. 5, which Dale’s teacher, Frederick Corder, described in 1917 as having “remarkable beauty, power and originality”.
What was probably first composition for viola quartet follows, with the Nachtstück op. 34 by the adopted Viennese Max von Weinzierl from 1883. It was suggested by the president of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Wenzel Sedlitzky, who the work is also dedicated to. The evening is closes with evocative adaptations of Piazzolla tangos and a viola version of Johann Strauss’ Kaiserwalzer.