You may not hear as much about Ukrainian violist (and here also conductor) Maxim Rysanov (b. 1978) as you should because he works for a relatively small record company that probably doesn't promote him as much as a big company would. Or maybe it's because he plays the viola, and the viola is not exactly the superstar of the classical world that violins and cellos are. In any case, Rysanov is a fine player, and this current album should go a long way to gain him some of the attention he deserves.
Most new albums need an angle, of course, something to draw one's interest to them and set them apart from the rest. The idea of the present program is that, called "In Schubert's Company," includes music both old and new. It contains mostly the works of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), but it intersperses Schubert with pieces by several of Rysanov's contemporaries, composers who say Schubert inspired their compositions. So, we see that even after almost two hundred years, a great composer can continue to inspire modern artists. The albums's two discs and 115 minutes of material make for entertaining, enlightening, and consistently fascinating listening.
The program begins with Schubert's delightful Polonaise for violin and orchestra in B flat major, arranged by Mr. Rysanov for viola (he uses an il Soldato Guadagnini). It's a splendid way to introduce the album because Rysanov approaches the piece with a sweet, leisurely warmth. The music flows smoothly, effortlessly from his viola.
Next is a short piece called "In Schubert's Company" by Sergey Akhunov (b. 1967), which won a YouTube competition Rysanov created a few years ago. One can easily hear Schubert in it, yet it is also clearly Akhunov's work as well, and it flows along with a melancholy grace.
Then there's another new piece, "Wie der alte Lieermann" for violin and orchestra, by Leonid Desyatnikov (b. 1955), again arranged for viola by Mr. Rysanov. The music is a take on Schubert's slow movement from the C major Fantasy for violin and piano, the "take" being most modern and a little jarring after the abundant ease of the first two tracks.
The first disc concludes with the longest work on the album, Schubert's Sonata in A minor for arpeggione & piano, with Rysanov on arpeggione (a six-stringed musical instrument, fretted and tuned like a guitar but bowed like a cello) and Yakov Katsnelson on piano. The piece is quite lovely and the performers do justice to it.
After that, it's on to a contemporary piece, Fantasy Homage to Schubert for viola and string orchestra, by Dobrinka Tabakova (b. 1980), It's kind of spacey, his description of it "a vision of floating through the cosmos," with Schubert slowly emerging as one sails along. It's the most different music on the agenda and certainly fun. Following that is another brief work by Sergey Akhunov, "Der Erlkonig" for viola and orchestra, again different in style and scope but still fascinating.
The album ends with two pieces by Schubert, the Violin Sonata No. 3, in Rysanov's arrangement for viola and piano, and Winterreise "Der Leiermann." I think along with the opening Polonaise, the sonata was my favorite music on the program. It has an enchantingly fairy-tale quality to it, and the performers handle it with a refined and affectionate comeliness.
Executive producer Matthew Cosgrove, producer and sound engineer Maria Soboleva, and engineer in Riga Normuns Sne recorded the music at the Choral Academy Music Hall, Moscow, and the Reformation Church, Riga, in March and September 2016. The viola sound is rich and warm; the orchestral sound likewise pleasing, a little dark with a touch of hall resonance to bring out its natural ambience. The sonata sounds a bit closer yet softer, nevertheless still lifelike. One also hears some extraneous noises, but they are never too bothersome or distracting. In other words, the sound is as welcome as the performances.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: