Alessandro Rolla Viola Concertos Not Fully Served

Alessandro Rolla, a contemporary of Mozart, was perhaps the greatest violist of his age. And he was a pretty good violinist, too. After all — he taught Paganini.

As was the practice of the time, Rolla the composer wrote concertos for Rolla the virtuoso to take on tour. This release includes two of those viola concertos, plus a symphony and a setting of “Tantum Ergo.”

Rolla’s concertos are well-crafted examples of the late Classical style. Phrases are neatly and evenly shaped. Dynamics vary, with rousing crescendos. Structures are elegantly outlined harmonically.

What gives these concertos life is the beauty and intricacy of the solo viola part. It’s thought that many of the string techniques Paganini popularized came from Rolla.

It’s possible. The solo parts are challenging, requiring agility and dexterity (particularly the double-stopped passages). Soloist Simonide Braconi is in clear command of this material, and he performs it with gusto.

The Symphony in D major is on par with mid-career Mozart and Haydn symphonies. It’s enjoyable from start to finish, with plenty of energetic tunes to keep things moving along.

The Tantum Ergo from 1805 is something of an oddball. It’s a work for bass voice, viola concertante, and orchestra. The low voice combined with the viola’s mid- and lower range has a warm, dark blend that’s balanced by the light accompanying ensemble.

Although Simonide Braconi did a fine job, I was a bit disappointed by the overall sound. To my ears, the ensemble was sometimes a bit ragged. Basso Salvo Vitale seemed to have problems sustaining his lowest notes. In some cases, they sounded underpowered.

Alessandro Rolla
Viola Concertos, Symphony in D, Tantum ergo
Simonide Braconi viola, Salvo Vitale bass
Orchestra da camera “Il Demetrio”
Maurizio Schiavo conductor
Brilliant Classics 95504

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