Instrumentalist - Viola, Instrumentalist - Violin
Violist, CCO offer graceful Schubert
"Schubertiade." Nokuthula Ngwenyama. Arpeggione.

The words may have needed some definition, but the musical message was clear at Sunday afternoon's Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine.

The event was a "Schubertiade," a concert devoted to the music of Franz Schubert and named after the intimate gatherings held during the composer's lifetime to hear and perform his music.

Guest artist was violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama in Schubert's 1824 "Arpeggione" Sonata in A Minor. The arpeggione, now obsolete, was a six-stringed instrument, fretted and tuned like a guitar, but held and bowed like a cello.

It brought a lovely end to the CCO's two-part "Schubertiade" begun in October. CCO music director Mischa Santora conducted.

The only work not by Schubert was the "Italian Serenade," written in 1887 by Austrian composer Hugo Wolf, arranged for solo viola and orchestra.

Ngwenyama, 31, is one of the new stars of the once neglected viola. Born in Los Angeles to a Zimbabwean father and a Japanese mother, "Thula" brought grace and refinement to Schubert's musical stepchild. The arpeggione went out of style soon after its invention in 1823 because of its delicate tone quality and awkwardness in playing, but Schubert's sonata has been adopted by cellists, double bassists, guitarists and even wind players.

It suits the viola very well. The music's soulfulness is consonant with the dark-hued voice of the alto member of the violin family. Ngwenyama (pronounced En-gwen-ya-ma) played an 1892, 15½-inch viola by Marengo Romano Rinaldi of Turin. With it, she projected a warm, enveloping sound that came across well in Memorial Hall's hard-edged acoustics.

The sonata begins with a theme very similar to the opening of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony (written just two years earlier in 1822). Ngwenyama impressed this gently on the ear low on the G string before reaching into the highest register of the instrument as the work unfolded. She spun long-breathed lines in the meditative Adagio (her audition piece for the Curtis Institute of Music at age 16, she said) and made spirited work of the genial finale.

Wolf's "Italian Serenade," originally for string quartet and later arranged for orchestra, gives a major role to the viola. As performed by Ngwenyama and the CCO, it was a synthesis of Wolf, the great 20th-century violist William Primrose and Santora himself, he said in remarks to the audience. Ngwenyama put spark and sparkle in it, and there were some charming solos by principal cellist Patrick Binford.
Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati Post
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