Here we have the curiosity of an arrangement of an arrangement (sort of classical music’s version of Ocean’s 12 – a sequel to a remake) – what was once for arpeggione and piano became for viola and piano, which became viola and string orchestra. What is an arpeggione? Renowned violist Paul Doktor tells us…
The “Arpeggione” was a guitar-like instrument tuned in the same way as the guitar (E A d g b e’), but held between the knees and played with a bow… it was originally called “Guitarre d’amour,” but soon dubbed “Arpeggione” because it lent itself so well to arpeggio playing… The instrument possessed a warm sound quality, and it was this attribute which Schubert exploited in the sonata when he wrote for it in 1824.”
While I generally don’t care for arrangements of chamber music for large ensembles, this one actually works quite well. The sustaining power of the strings, which the piano has less of, allows for greater emphasis of the harmonic colors because the connections are clearer. It’s easy for the opening movement to sound somber, especially in the hands of the wrong violist. Here, the music never settles, and is constantly shifting from color to color. Of course it helps your cause if Maxim Rysanov is your violist, of whom premiere Russian violist Yuri Bashmet proclaimed “my rival has arrived!” Everything that I hear of his is terrific, and I learn so much whenever I see/hear him play.
Dobrinka Tabakova’s arrangement of the piano part is dutifully faithful to the score, and allows Schubert’s music to speak through. Violists owe her a debt for the clear, interesting arrangement.