BBC Music Magazine
Widmann Viola Concerto
Antoine Tamestit (viola); Signum Quartet, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMM902268 JURY AWARD
If writing a concerto for the viola wasn’t a challenge enough, Jörg Widmann has pushed the instrument to its technical and theatrical extremes in his fiery new work. It opens with the violist appearing from within the orchestra, hitting the wood of the instrument before embarking on more than ten minutes of pizzicato. When violist Antoine Tamestit first read through Widmann’s score, his first reaction was an incredulous ‘Will the pizzicato ever stop?!’. In fact, the bow of the viola doesn’t get used until halfway through the piece, at which point the soloist brandishes it above him like a sword.
Tamestit commissioned the concerto, working with Widmann to explore fully his instrument’s capabilities. ‘In many viola concertos, you see the soloist but don’t hear them much,’ says Widmann. ‘I tried to write a viola concerto where you can hear every note of the soloist.’
The concerto is a showcase of not just the viola but every section of the orchestra, even bringing the bass flute to the fore alongside sparse instrumentation. ‘The bass flute and viola are often covered up by other orchestral instruments because of their fragile timbres, so I wanted to focus on them,’ says Widmann.
In addition, the viola player moves through the orchestra – which you can hear on this premiere recording – creating dialogues with different sections. ‘It’s a very physical recording,’ says Widmann. And Tamestit delivers it with ferocity and panache. Drama king: composer Jörg Widmann