First Viola Sonata, Op. 1

Violists tend to feel like left out like second cousins at the party, but really it seems like the perfect instrument—the soul of the cello with all the portability of a violin. Easley Blackwood is a composer who appears to have relished in what the viola has to offer. Two viola sonatas are presented on this disc, their composition separated by almost 50 years. The first, from 1953, Blackwood wrote to resemble the styles of Berg and Messiaen, and harmonically the piece takes a number of fascinating turns. Hindemith, with whom the composer was studying at the time, was not amused. “He thoroughly disliked the piece, declaring that its style was ‘unnatural’,” writes Blackwood in the disc’s liner notes. “I argued back that all musical styles are basically unnatural, save perhaps for pentatonic monody. Hindemith was not a skilled debater.”

—MS