The phrase "The Magic of the Viola" has been with me since its first appearance as the title of a viola recital in Seattle while I was a member of the Seattle Symphony. It went with me to Spain and eventually became a whole series of viola recitals in Los Angeles, where I have played in the recording studios for 20 years. On that wonderful journey of life the magical pieces on this disk have always been part of me.
"America the Beautiful" was the song we sang at my grade-school graduation. It brought a tear to my eye then, and recording and dedicating it in the aftermath of September 11th makes me realize how much my love for this great country has grown and strengthened with the years. The present arrangement for viola and piano was invented "on the fly", as it were by Bryan at the end of the last day's recording session for this album. We were talking about how Amazing Grace, in a quasi-gospel style would make a great introduction to America the Beautiful and how motifs from the basic tune could be included as imitation to give the whole thing unity of style. Somebody said "let's try it" and the present recording is what came out.
Bach used his"Arioso" at least twice; once in the Cantata Nº 156 and again in a harpsichord concerto. It was one of the very earliest pieces assigned to me by my first violin teacher, the assistant concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony (where I also played in my senior year of high school). Leo Skipton was the man who guided me in those first musical steps from childhood through my first year in college and my copy of the music to Arioso still has the date of my lesson in his handwriting at the top of the page where he would write each week's assignment.
For a whole semester while I was studying at Juilliard, the tune from Musetta's Waltz filled my head. One of my friends had told me about a production of "La Boheme" at NY University that needed violinists for the orchestra. "They have a nude model on stage for the opening curtain" he said. After the first rehearsal, I was hooked by Puccini's themes and came back week after week, not to watch the stage but to hear and play the music. Years later, it still took only a phrase or two from the opera to transport me right back to the orchestra pit in NY, hearing the magic of Musetta's Waltz for the first time. Much later, after playing the present arrangement for encores after viola recitals, I arranged Juilliet's Waltz Song by Gounod for viola and piano to have a companion piece from the opera singer's repertoire to go together with Musetta's Waltz as part of programs rather than just as encores.
When I first discovered Debussy's Romance, it seemed like a perfect encore because of its brevity. After playing it a few times, though, I began to wish it wasn't quite so short. At about the same time, playing in the orchestra for Orff's Carmina Burana, I was captivated by another aria that seemed way too short; In Trutina. In the same key as Debussy's Romance, I tried putting the two pieces together and have played them that way ever since.
When I first came to live in Los Angeles, I went about organizing a debut viola recital hoping to show local Los Angeles musicians what I could do. I included Chopin's Nocturne on the program and it was well received by critics and public. When we decided to include it in this recording it was no easy task remembering all the little cadenzas and flourishes that I had never written down. Fortunately, after a few days of thinking about them, they all came back.
I first heard and played Granada as part of a TV studio orchestra recording the accompaniment for Placido Domingo in a program celebrating the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. I loved the song then and have loved it every time I played it since, with José Carrerras at the Greek Theatre and with Pavarotti and the Three Tenors in Las Vegas last year. Sitting there in the orchestra I wished I was a tenor, just to be able to sing that song. Since that was impossible, I transcribed it for viola. This album also includes three tangos given to me by one of my students in Spain who was from Argentina. Later, while engineering and producing a whole album of tangos for flute and guitar by two wonderful Spanish artists in Barcelona I came to love and appreciate the tango even more as I realized how classically-based and musically sophisticated it actually is. El Día que me Quieras is one of the most well-loved popular songs in the world and has been sung and recorded by nearly every latin pop artist over the years. Bryan Pezzone's Lament, receiving its world premiere recording on this disc, bears an admitted Spanish influence by way of Joaquin Rodrigo and his Concierto Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra. It is so perfectly conceived for viola that I am sure it will be heard often on viola recitals, and perhaps even in the movies.
No collection of classical pieces would be complete without something by Mozart. The present arrangement of Andante Cantabile was originally the slow movement from the second of his duets for violin and viola, except that here the viola plays the melodic violin part and the piano the original viola part. Fauré's art song Après un Rêve has become a staple in the viola repertoire and was played and recorded by violists such as Lionel Tertis, William Primrose and Milton Katims.
The two pieces that close the Magic of the Viola album are both titled Elegy and were both written by 19th century violinists. The composer Hans Sitt has been a favorite of mine since including his Album Leaves, Opus 39 as a world premiere recording on my first solo album "19th Century Viola Music" (PROdigital Records, PRO-5308). His music for viola has been wrongfully neglected by violists, and the Elegy presented here is also a world premiere recording. Vieuxtemps' Elegy, on the other hand, is highly appreciated, if somewhat demanding, and offers an elegy that almost bristles with pyrotechnical defiance. Peter Hatch, Los Angeles, 2002.