The qualities that can make the viola sound awkward and abrasive can also give the instrument a more human voice than its smaller cousin, the violin. To make the viola small enough to be played under the chin like a violin generally requires its strings to be shorter and at a higher tension than they ideally should be. To make it a viable solo instrument requires an exceptional player. The latest to take a stab at it was German violist Veit Hertenstein, in his Kennedy Center Terrace Theater debut presented by Young Concert Artists on Tuesday night.
In an odd yet often rewarding program, Hertenstein produced a consistently silken tone but ultimately seemed more judicious than compelling in his interpretation. Schumann’s late A Minor Sonata, Op. 105, composed for the violin, did not sit well in Hertenstein’s hands, its slow movement kept guilelessly simple but with some intonation issues in the last movement’s passage work. This reticence brought his skilled and deferential accompanist, Pei-Yao Wang, even more into the spotlight. Hertenstein’s musical personality seemed best suited to slathering as many varied colors as possible onto jagged miniatures like Vadim Borisovsky’s arrangements of pieces from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Hertenstein’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s aphoristic piano preludes, Op. 34.
It was good to hear at least one piece written for the viola, Nino Rota’s Intermezzo for Viola and Piano, which highlighted Rota’s melodic gifts and the shy prettiness of Hertenstein’s tone, especially at the bottom end.
Piazzolla’s charming but overlong “Le Grand Tango,” originally composed for the cello, seemed like the first encore. The first actual encore was Fritz Kreisler’s “Praeludium and Allegro,” where finally Hertenstein seemed to relax and let loose some fireworks.
Downey is a freelance writer.