For centuries the viola has seen its fair share of adversity. Accused of not having a soul or being a stringed instrument with a colourless life, one can only speculate that its survival was mainly due to its timbre which was only fit enough to fill in the harmonies between violins and cellos. Even though a number of attempts were made by luthiers and composers to re-address the viola as a prominent player, it failed to attract to become a solo instrument. Of the few composers who wrote for it, only a handful, like Kraus, came from the eighteenth century. Of these, works by Flackton, Telemann, K. Stamitz, Vanhal, Mozart and Hoffmeister have been recorded. Unsurprisingly, the viola faced an even more miserable repertoire in the following century.
Given this information, this premiere recording is certainly a welcome addition to the catalogue of concertos for the viola. Although I have a number of Kraus recordings, none, apart from CPO's Miserere and Requiem etc (2008; 777409-2), have been as memorable as this latest recording from Ondine played by David Aaron Carpenter and the Tapiola Sinfonietta. Although the disc opens with the concerto in E flat, I must admit it did not catch my immediate attention; however the second and third concerto in C and G, respectively had won me over (the second in particularly). All three concertos certainly share Kraus's virtuoso writing, and though there are stylistic traits leaning more towards Stamitz (than Hoffstetter, in my opinion), Kraus provides his own individuality. According to the booklet his `trademarks' are `his penchant for varied repetition', `modulatory patterns' and his `use of sequences'. Kraus's melodic themes, no matter how small, are simple yet catchy, particularly with the popular eighteenth century rondo he supplies in the last movement in each of his three concertos. As for David Aaron Carpenter, the soloist, he has the strength of a viola player, the sentiment for expressing beautiful melody, a genius of interpretation and a master for virtuosity, particularly in such a difficult-to-handle instrument. My only concern lies with the overshadowing of the viola by orchestral accompaniment on the odd occasion. Nonetheless, this CD is a worthwhile addition for the library of any serious music lover, devotee of eighteenth century music, not to mention the viola enthusiast or viola player. An enjoyable recording!