'The music was brought to life by the outstanding expressive eloquence of Roger Chase’s playing' Sunday Times, London
'I cannot recall a recent performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante that came so close to the truthful simplicity of this heavenly work than that given last night' Daily Telegraph, London
'Every note of the viola’s display passages could be properly savoured' The Guardian, London
'Rapid virtuoso music that does not make us feel that it would sound better on the violin…Cool and unslurried…A delight to the ear' The Guardian, London
'[The recording of Britten’s Lachrymae] features….a radiant viola solo from Roger Chase, quite virtuosic in places, and suitably dark and intense' MusicWeb International
'Brilliant…the playing of violist Roger Chase is admirable' American Record Guide
American Record Guide, March/April, 2009
BATE: Viola Concerto
BELL: Viola Concerto
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Romance
Roger Chase, BBC Concert Orchestra/Stephen Bell
Finally getting to review the excellent English violist Roger Chase is cause for celebration. Even more cause for celebration is the excellent Viola Concerto by British composer Stanley Bate (1911-59). The concerto was written in America in the mid-1940s in hopes that William Primrose would perform it. When Primrose declined, Emanuel Vardi stepped in and it had its premiere with the NBC Symphony on June 15, 1947.
It is a very strong work that grabs the listener’s attention from the opening bars and sustains interest. It was clearly inspired by William Walton’s magnificent Viola Concerto (itself inspired by Prokofieff’s Violin Concerto No.1), and the brief, mercurial, scherzo-like III is modeled after the middle movement of the Walton.
Tough as this movement is, Chase handles it brilliantly. The slow movement has a spiritual quality, and after a long orchestral introduction the viola enters in a quiet meditative mood. It is joined first by the woodwinds, then the strings, then the whole orchestra — gorgeous. The finale begins slowly and imposingly, and this slow material alternates with faster material. I wish this could become part of the standard viola repertoire. While I wouldn’t put it in the same league as Walton’s Viola Concerto or Hindemith’s Schwanendreher, I’ve heard too many viola concertos that are far inferior to this one. Everyone who loves the viola should get this recording and play it for his friends.
The Romance by Vaughan Williams (Bate’s composition teacher) is a work for viola and piano that was discovered after the composer’s death. It is a lovely if not quite top-drawer piece, and Chase’s arrangement with orchestra is very effective. William Henry Bell (1873-1946) was born and trained in England and immigrated to South Africa in 1912. Four years later he composed this concerto, titled Rosa Mystica. The score is prefaced by two verses from the 15th Century carol The Flower of Jesse by John Audelay. There is no obviously religious quality in the music. It is a good concerto, very enjoyable, but it doesn’t have the drama and sense of occasion that the Bate does.
Except for some faltering intonation at some points in the Bell (from fatigue? Chase plays the famous 17-l/8-inch-long viola of 1717 by Domenico Montagnana that belonged to Lionel Tertis. My own viola is 17 inches, so I know what your left hand feels like after a few hours of playing an instrument that size) Chase’s playing is top-notch technically and musically. It is also a great pleasure to hear this magnificent instrument so skillfully played and so well recorded.
The Tertis Project , reviewed by The Record, March 2008
Oft-neglected viola has its day.
WATERLOO — A viola recital consisting of solely of music by early 20th century English composers may seem just about as unlikely as the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. But British violist Roger Chase has proved it can be done, and well.
Chase and pianist Michiko Otaki presented music for viola by Benjamin Dale, Arnold Bax, Bernard Shore and Lionel Tertis as part of his ongoing tour of The Tertis Project in a concert Wednesday evening at the MusicRoom.
English violist Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) considered it his life’s mission to advance the cause of the viola so it would become an equal to the violin and cello. To this end, no instrument’s repertoire was safe from Tertis’ pilfering. In addition to arranging everything he could lay his hands on, Tertis was quite adept at convincing composers to write new works for his instrument. And it is these works that filled the concert program.
Visually, Otaki and Chase are an odd pair. She, at barely five feet, clad in full evening regalia and he at well over six feet with a shock of white hair, sporting a sort of Miro-inspired vest. Aurally, however, they are a great match, with Otaki taking great care not to overshadow the easily coverable viola, a real achievement in such a small space.
Chase opened the program with a short trifle by Benjamin Dale called English Dance. The piece is a setting of bawdy songs sung by Bertie Wooster types in Edwardian London gentlemen’s clubs.
Although short on substance, the piece gave the first taste of the instrument’s impressive upper register tone. Chase is playing on Tertis’ favourite viola and it is easy to see why the instrument was so cherished. Because it is held under the chin, the physics of the viola’s sound production are not optimal. It is, therefore, quite rare to find an instrument that is rich and dark in the lower register but still sweet and responsive on the upper strings.
The Ballad from Group II of the Suite for Viola and Piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams was the perfect vehicle for Chase to show off his finest skill: truly beautiful sound. Inspired by the Border Counties, a place for which Chase clearly has great affection, the Ballad was simply mesmerizing. The Moto Perpetuo was less successful. Intonation was a little hairy in the upper positions and although Chase shaped the constant incessant sixteenth notes well, he would have benefited from a little more oomph from Otaki.
It was clear from the first notes that both Chase and Otaki were completely enamoured by Arnold Bax’ Sonata for Viola and Piano and well they should be. It is a brilliantly composed piece with both instruments scored as equals. And the move from accompanist to soloist and back again was effortless.
Chase dazzled the audience with extended double stop passages, spot on octaves and heroic journeys up the entire length of the A string. The Romance from Benjamin Dale’s Suite for Viola and Piano Op 2 was Tertis’ favourite encore. It is quite lovely in its own way and received an intelligently nuanced performance from Chase. Regrettably, the sonata’s outer movements are rather laborious and overlong, a circumstance that was not mitigated by a committed interpretation.
Two delightful miniatures, Scherzo by Chase’s teacher Bernard Shore and Sunset by Lionel Tertis himself, closed the program. Free from the technical acrobatics of the previous pieces, Chase instead enchanted with genuine affection and that trademark beautiful sound.