A Century of American Viola Sonatas (sort of)

I like everything about this recording save the title. Because it isn’t quite true. “A Century of American Viola Sonatas” does include viola sonatas written by Americans. 

But the earliest is Ulysses Kay’s 1939 Sonatine. The latest are the sonatas by David Tcimpidis and Libby Larsen. Both date from 2004. So there’s a 65-year span between the earliest sonata and the latest — not a century.

And that 65-year survey is a little uneven. Ulysses Kay has two works, one from 1939 and the other from 1942. In addition to sonatas by Tcimpidis and Larsen, there’s one by Eric Ewazen. His piece is from 1991. So two from the beginning, then a 49-year gap, then the remaining three.

Hardly the century-long survey the title suggested to me! But that’s the only negative I have with the release. The works are all first-rate compositions. Kay’s two works and Tcimpidi’s sonata receive world recording premieres. All three are strong additions to the viola’s repertoire. 

Both Larsen and Ewazen have solid reputations for music that connects with audiences. Their viola sonatas are no exception. Both have an immediate appeal that draws the listener in. 

The performances are also solid. Basil Vendryes plays with assurance and authority. Pianist William David makes every work seem like a collaboration. This raises the overall performance to a new level. 

This release isn’t a survey. But it is a collection of American viola sonatas. And ones that are well-constructed and pleasingly performed. 

A Century of American Viola Sonatas
Basil Vendryes, viola
William David, piano
Toccata Classics TOCN 0026

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