The Dark Sound: The Slapin-Solomon Viola Duo

The Slapin-Solomon Viola Duo has issued a 20-year retrospective album that brings out some of the delights of the viola sound. The duo, made up of composer and violist Scott Slapin and his wife, Tanya Solomon, have recorded a wide range of music from the classical genre and have assembled a selection of it on this album.

The album opens with Slapin’s Prelude, which dates from 2016. It’s very American in sound, perhaps being quite like the quieter moments in something like Appalachian Spring, yet turns in the end to an almost Russian sound with more drive and more intensity.

Three works by David Rimelis (b. 1954) take us to the far corners of the world with music influenced by Cajun, Afghan, and Cuban styles. His works have one viola act as the support while the other voice is the ‘singer’. This compositional style, combined with the low viola sound, is able to paint very effective pictures. His track Out Beyond Ideas is part of a larger work, Three Poems by Rumi, based on the writings of the Afghan poet Rumi. It incorporates a very Middle Eastern sound.

One of the surprise pieces is the 1812 Overture, abridged and arranged by the duo. The dusky opening fits well on the violas (although one does miss the cannons at the end). A full orchestral overture arranged for violas makes you hear it a new way, considering how the melody is supported.

Their other adaptation and arrangement are of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie which isn’t nearly as effective – you really do, in this case, want to hear the rest of the orchestra! The problem isn’t necessarily the arrangement, it’s the fact that it’s only for 2 violas – doing this again with a larger ensemble of violas might be absolutely amazing.

The other composers on the recording include two early 19th century composers: Antonio Bruni (1757–1821) and Allesandro Rolla (1757–1841), Gerald Busby (b. 1935), Frank Proto (b. 1942), Patrick Neher (b. 1959), and Rachel Matthews. One movement of Frank Proto’s Sonata for Two Violas is presented and is one of the best tracks on the record that shows the duo’s equality of voice and their strength of playing.

Seven works by Scott Slapin are scattered across the album, written for many different occasions or for the duo, and form a solid core of modern viola duo writing. His ‘opera’, Violacentrism, a one-act work on ‘the story of Cremonus, God of the Viola and His gift of the Viola to mankind’, is that rarity: an opera without words but definitely with violas. The overture shows, again, what two violas can accomplish – it may be two voices but also seems to be symphonic in nature.

Duo violas are a rare combination and in the variety of music on this recording, we have a chance to see the potential of the sound and the breadth of imagination that composers have brought to it.

The cover image shows two beautiful violas: Mr. Slapin holds his Hiroshi Iizuka viola and Tanya Solomon’s is a Marten Cornelissen.

The Slapin-Solomon Viola Duo: A Twenty-Year Retrospective album cover

The Slapin-Solomon Viola Duo
A Twenty-Year Retrospective
Violacentric label

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