Hartmut Rohde Plays Josef Tal

Josef Tal cover

TAL: Suite for Viola. Perspective. Viola Sonata.* Duo for Viola & Piano* / Hartmut Rohde, vla; *Christian Seibert, pno / Avi 8553914

Although composer Josef Tal was a pupil of Paul Hindemith and lived almost to the age of 100 (1910-2008), he is not well known outside Europe. Violist Hartmut Rohde, who met Tal at the age of 94 and here plays several of his works, hopes to correct that. As Rohde puts it in the liner notes, “Our encounter was like a journey into an unsettling past, marked by a great number of hardships and upheavals he had personally endured. It also offered a revealing glimpse into the outlook of composers in Israel, as well as previously in Germany – even into compositional approaches from many eras he did not live through himself.”

Tal and Rohde in 2004

Tal and Rohde in 2004

The opening Suite for Viola was one of Tal’s earliest works, written in 1940. The melodic and harmonic language spoken here is so obviously modeled on Hindemith that it might be a piece by that composer, but at least it’s a good, solid work, well thought out and having an interesting musical progression. Rohde has a rich, full tone and plays with considerable energy and feeling, which also helps one get close to the music. The third-movement “Tango,” with its unusual bowing effects, is clearly the most original and un-Hindemith-like movement in the suite.

Perspective, from 1996, is an even more tightly-written piece and shows Tal’s development, moving somewhat away from copying Hindemith. The music is much more atonal despite its tight structure, as Rohde puts it, almost like a passacaglia, The Viola Sonata, from 1960, is perhaps the strangest work on this disc, having a dark, mysterious feeling about it, projecting an almost sinister mood. Eventually, the music doubles in tempo and becomes more agitated. Here, with a piano accompaniment, Tal was able to create a call-and-response, sometimes in counterpoint, between the two instruments.

By contrast, the Duo for Viola & Piano is a very objective piece, almost like late Stravinsky, with odd stops and starts, juxtaposing jagged lines against lyrical figures and long-held notes. Just  before the five-minute mark, after a long pause, the music goes through several more and different moods and phases; it almost sounds schizophrenic in structure, yet somehow Tal managed to pull all the pieces together before the finale.

This is a very interesting recording, well worth your listening time.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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