As both conductor at La Scala from 1802 to 1833, and a professor at the new conservatoire in Milan (from 1808, the year of its foundation, to 1835), Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841) was the heartbeat of Milanese music in the turbulent early decades of the 19th century. He was also an accomplished performer on both violin and viola, and his own compositional output reflects his instrumental mastery, filtered through his experience of leading the Italian premieres of quartets and symphonies by Beethoven as well as operas by Mozart: he was a complete musician of his time.
The F major Viola Concerto opening this attractive new album belongs to Rolla’s apprentice years in service to the ducal court at Parma. With its uncompromising technical demands and unwavering focus on the solo instrument, the concerto represents a missing link between the idioms of Tartini and Paganini. The dawn of bel canto may be discerned in the slow movement of the album’s concluding D minor Viola Concerto, which concludes with a charmingly bucolic Rondo.
Dating from Rolla’s Milanese years, the 1805 Tantum ergo also features a concertante role for the viola, in sinuous accompaniment to the vocal bass soloist: a highly original device perhaps prompted by Mozart’s famous Sinfonia Concertante. As a performer, Rolla reserved the most haunting melodies and moments for himself: After a vocal cadenza on the closing Amen it is the viola that sets the seal on the work with an intensely lyrical phrase and a brilliantly virtuosic stretta. The D major Sinfonia likewise belongs to the first decade of the 1800s – infused with Rossinian verve and bubbling with operatic drama in the quick outer movements.
The Milanese violist Simonide Braconi plays Rolla’s music to the manner born, being the long-standing principal violist at La Scala. He is accompanied here by a chamber orchestra based in nearby Pavia and specialising in Classical-era works by neglected composers.
Italian composer Alessandro Rolla lived from 1757 till 1841, outliving both Mozart and Beethoven, his most important musical influences. He was an extraordinary virtuoso on the viola, the “Paganini of the viola”, were it not that he was actually the teacher of Paganini. Many of the technical innovations that Paganini introduced in his devilish violin works were invented by Rolla.
This new recording presents two substantial viola concertos, a Tantum Ergo for solo bass, viola and orchestra (a rarity!) and the orchestral Sinfonia in D. The concertos are vehicles of melodious invention, charm and virtuosity.
Soloist Simonide Braconi studied with Kim Kashkashian, Yuri Bashmet, Bruno Giuranna, he is principal violist of the Scala Orchestra and member of the famous Scala String Quartet. He plays a historic 1800 Giovanni Gagliano viola.