Barbara Westphal – Convergences

Barbara Westphal’s latest release is an interesting blend of old and new, original music with arrangements. Johannes Brahms didn’t write any solo music for the viola, but that hasn’t stopped violists from making arrangements of some of his music for their instrument. In this case, Westphal plays arrangements of Brahms’ Sonata in E minor, Op. 38 (originally for violin), and his Sonata in G major, Op. 78 (originally for cello).

And the arrangements work.

Westphal plays with a clean, unadorned tone. In the E minor sonata, the music lays very well on the instrument, and while the lower tones have an added warmth (when compared to the violin original), it sounds quite natural — as if that’s the way Brahms intended it.

That low register warmth also makes Westphal’s performance of the G major sonata effective. Her ability to spin out long, singing melodies makes some passages sound quite beautiful.

Nestled between these two works is Convergence, a work commissioned by Westphal from Andrea Clearfield. This 11-minute work is decidedly modern, if a little on the conservative side. There are plenty of chromatic passages and tone clusters, but overall the music retains a tonal base.

I personally liked it, as the work shows what the viola is capable of. Though it contrasts with the Brahms works that bookend it. I’m not entirely convinced there’s any stylistic convergence between Clearfield and Brahms as Westphal suggests in the liner notes.

Nevertheless, the three works on the album are performed well. And if you — like me — are comfortable with different style periods rubbing shoulders, you’ll probably enjoy this release.

Johannes Brahms: Sonata in G major, Op. 78; Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Andrea Clearfield: Convergence
Barbara Westphal, viola; Christian Ruvolo, piano
Bridge Records 9442

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