Romancing the Viola – Haken performs his works

This is a great time for classical music. It’s not only post-tonal, but it’s post-atonal as well. Composers don’t have to worry about sounding new-fangled or old-fashioned. They just have to create music that’s worth listening to.

That thought came to me as I listened to this recording. Rudolf Haken’s musical language is just a little north of post-romantic while remaining imaginative and authentic. And yes, it’s worth listening to.

Haken’s also an accomplished violist, which makes this release doubly interesting. Haken wrote these works between the ages of 15 and 25, and there’s a certain youthful energy and directness to them.

Although all the works have an immediate appeal, there were two I especially took notice of. The first is the 1981 Suite in A minor for solo viola. It’s clearly modeled on the Bach cello suites. Haken masterfully creates both melody and harmony with his single instrument, and sometimes counter-melodies as well. Each of the six movements is less than two minutes in length, the music distilled down to its essence.

The second is the substantial Sonata in D minor. This 30-minute work uses chromaticism effectively to up the emotional content of the music. To my ears, there’s a distinctively American quality to the work, especially in the slow movement. Haken has a real melodic gift, and there are long, flowing passages where the viola seems to sing.

Romancing the Viola is well worth a listen, whether you’re interested in the possibilities of the instrument, or wanting to explore a more tonal side of contemporary music.

Romancing the Viola
Viola Music of Rudolf Haken
Rudolf Haken, viola; Rachel Jensen, piano
MSR Classics 1609

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