Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Alexa Thomson – possibility and accomplishment on the viola

By , 15/10/2014

St. Andrews-on-the-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series:

Alexa Thomson, Viola
Rafaella Garlick-Grice, Piano

Brahms – Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, Op.120
Bartok – Moderato, from Viola Concerto, Sz.120, BB 128
Paganini (arr.Primrose) – La Campanella

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday 15th October 2014

 This concert was an Honours music degree recital for Alexa Thomson, and St.Andrew’s church was a most suitable venue for this scale of performance. The Brahms Sonata is, of course, one of the lynchpins of the violist’s repertoire, and it was a good vehicle for Alexa’s artistic phrasing and warmth of tone which was entirely free of the edgy, nasal quality that can often detract from the upper register of a viola. The balance of piano and viola was excellent, obviously benefitting from Rafaella’s wide experience in such collaborative roles, and together the players very effectively captured the many contrasting moods of the opening Allegro appassionato.

They did likewise in a beautifully wistful reading of the following Andante and a very gracious Allegretto. The demanding Vivace finale was very polished and technically competent, and rounded off a thoughtful and musical performance of this iconic work. For my part, I would have preferred a reading with less gentility, more overt passion and Romanticism, and a wider exploration of the dynamic range that Brahms’ rich idioms can offer so many opportunities for; but a more subdued approach obviously sat  very comfortably with the players.

Next was the opening Moderato movement from Bartok’s concerto, a work that, for me, offers some pretty challenging listening, given its unforgiving dissonance and aggressive, angular writing in places. But the duo attacked it with impressive technical skill, and highlighted well its widely contrasting moods, be they angry or lyrical. This was a more passionate reading than the Brahms, and the movement definitely benefitted from that.

La Campanella is an unashamedly show-off piece in Paganini’s very recognisable style, and like its many stablemates it is very demanding technically. Both players had all the fireworks thoroughly sorted out, with Alexa pulling off the brutal double stopping with considerable flair. There was good contrast between the widely varying moods of the piece, with the musical phrasing of the more lyrical sections punctuating the frenetic interludes very effectively. The work closed with a great flourish that had the audience expressing their appreciation most enthusiastically.

The programme notes stated that “Alexa really aspires to have a solo career” but she came across to me, and others I spoke to, as a gentle soul, with a refinement more suited to chamber or orchestral roles. For a solo career, I think she needs to find that element of the bruiser that is, I feel, essential to tackle this intractable instrument. It was never designed to go under the human chin, and in a solo situation calls more for a cellist mentality than that of an “alto violinist”. Nevertheless, this very demanding programme was most professionally pulled off, and Gillian Ansell must be a very proud teacher.

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