Prokofiev and Shostakovich Music for Viola and Piano

This CD of Russian music brings together Prokofiev’s extraordinary musical depiction of young romantic love with Shostakovich’s deeply touching musical farewell, written during his final illness. The character of the viola provides a compelling voice for both. Who would have thought that Prokofiev’s huge orchestral score could find such convincing expression in a version for viola and piano? What is lost in orchestral colour is gained through the personal voice of warmth that the viola brings to this much loved music. The piano writing is also superb, and must surely have been influenced by Prokofiev’s own version for solo piano, made in 1937.

Robin Ireland is well known as the violist of the Lindsay String Quartet, with whom he played for more than twenty years. He now plays with the Primrose Piano Quartet, the Anton Stadler trio and as a Duo with pianist Tim Horton.



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"There have already been several recordings of  Vadim Borisovsky’s tremendously effective arrangement for viola and  piano of music from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. Robin Ireland includes the complete first set of six pieces (there are several collections totalling 13 movements). Ireland takes the whirlwind ‘Young Juliet’ and ‘Mercutio’ at a less neck-breaking pace than Hellen Callus (ASV) or Lawrence Power (Harmonia Mundi); he is at his lyrical best in the ‘Balcony Scene’, and unleashes great reserves of sound in the menacing ‘Dance of the Knights’. Ireland mostly adheres to Borisovsky’s original fingerings, which are an essential part of his style and show off the viola’s timbral spectrum in the most favourable light.

Borisovsky left some 250 arrangements of music of every kind, but Shostakovich’s Preludes op.34 are not among them. Although attributed to him in the CD’s cover and booklet, the idiomatic arrangements Ireland plays are by Borisovsky’s student, Yevgeny Strakhov. They don’t adhere to the original keys but are ideally tailored for the viola. Ireland captures perfectly the music’s mercurial nature, both the sarcastic faux-Baroque dance rhythms and the heart-on-sleeve Romanticism of the slow pieces.

Shostakovich’s Sonata receives an understated reading, which would surely have met with the composer’s approval, but the devastating effect the piece can  have is only intermittently apparent. The  recording is truthfully balanced, giving the important piano parts – well played by the excellent Tim Horton – their due."

Reviewed by Carlos MarÌa Solare in the July 2010 issue of The Strad

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