"...dazzlingly good chamber ensemble…
exuberantly expressive, intimate style…
gorgeously idiomatic playing’
The Times
MusicWeb

Yuko Inoue has a wonderful burnished, velvety tone. Just how wonderful it is can be heard by comparing the two Bridge pieces with the version by Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard which I highly recommended (and still do) in an all-British programme on Helios CDH55085. Coletti’s tone is the brighter and this leads him to emphasise the energy of the music; 2’ 09" and 3’ 30" compared with Inoue’s 2’ 42" and 4’ 42". It is impossible not to be caught up in the sheer surge of emotion Coletti and Howard create in the Allegro appassionato; Inoue and Sturrock give the music just a little more space to breathe but fill every phrase with such eloquence and passion that it is impossible not to respond to this, too. I was thrilled by them both. In "Pensiero" the differences are so great as to affect the nature of the music. Coletti and Howard find a restlessness, a profound disquiet, that you might feel are quintessentially Bridgian; Inoue uses her fabulous tone to build the piece up as a dark elegy. And it is a fabulous tone; she is one of those chosen few who can somehow unlock the soul of her instrument. No question that this is just a lower-pitched violin. Even in the upper reaches it has a rich, autumnal melancholy that sets it quite off from its more brilliant cousin. Coletti, excellent as he is, hasn’t quite this richness and sheer depth of tone. So for this piece I have to declare that my home is here, even if I shall still hear Coletti from time to time for a different view of the music.


The Bridge pieces mark the first chronological climax of the programme. Looking at it on paper, you may think it odd that the disc proceeds chronologically for a while, then doubles back, and finally does the same again. In fact, it is a cunning piece of planning, marking off the programme into three separate parts. So we begin with Schumann and we notice at once the very positive partnership of Kathron Sturrock. At times she even seems to be the leading spirit behind the performances. Rather than creating a sense of imbalance, this resolves itself into a dialogue between the impetuous piano (Florestan, maybe?) and the reflective viola (Eusebius?). That such a close dialogue is possible is no doubt due to the fact that, as Inoue’s note to the CD tells us, Kathron Sturrock "over the years, has been a great support, not only as a pianist, but also as a friend". In chamber music not even the greatest professional accompanist in the world, engaged for a one-off session, can compensate for a long-time partner. Quite outstanding performances of some very beautiful music.


The Glazunov has no particularly Russian features, but its warm-hearted post-Brahmsian melodies fall easily upon the ear.


The second group of pieces starts with three Nocturnes by the Bohemian composer Kalliwoda. The Nocturnes of Field and Chopin might lead you to expect slow dreamy pieces, but in fact even the Larghetto no. 1 moves forward rather purposefully. Truth to tell, the dreamy Nocturne was a specifically Field-Chopin invention and there is a whole range of Nocturnes by such composers as William Wallace, Joseph Ascher or Louis Lefébure-Wély which are fast and virtuosic, sometimes even entitled Nocturne Brillant, or Caprice Nocturne. So Kalliwoda fits into this tradition. His music has a pleasing lyricism suggestive of watered-down Schubert. It is interesting that Kalliwoda’s way of watering down his model is to add far more notes than Schubert ever would have written, thus ensuring that our ears our tickled even when our emotions are barely touched.


Bruch’s Romanze is a late work, yet there is no sense of staleness as he clings lovingly to the style with which he had lived all his life. There is an almost Elgarian eloquence at times which Inoue exploits superbly. Originally this piece was written with orchestral accompaniment. I mean no disrespect to Sturrock, who produces as orchestral a sonority as a piano can, if I say that I hope to hear Inoue play this with an orchestra one day.


Back in time again for the recital’s third section, dedicated to the one Sonata on the disc, that by Glinka. Glinka, as we know, was the father of modern Russian music but in 1825-8, when he wrote this unfinished Sonata, he had not yet given birth to it ("Life for the Tsar" dates from 1836), writing instead in the elegant, flowing style of such well-known composers of the day as Hummel or Field (who had been resident in Russia since 1805). The Sonata not only required a conjectural realisation of some of the piano part by Borisovsky, it lacks a finale entirely, with the result that, much though Inoue and Sturrock make of its modest charms, it does not make an entirely convincing close to the programme. This is perhaps my sole reservation about the disc – I would have swapped it round with the Kalliwoda, which would have made a lively finish.


All the same, this is gorgeous viola-playing and I cannot recommend it too highly. Instruments like the viola often have to make recourse to minor composers to fill a programme; here Schumann, Bridge and Bruch provide a framework of truly inspired music, with the others never less than attractive, especially when played like this. The recording is also rich and warm. The useful notes (by Sturrock) are in tiny white print on a black background. Yes, I know this is Black Box and they could hardly do anything so banal as using plain white paper, but considering that the pages are about two-thirds filled, they could at least have used a larger type.
Christopher Howell