The instrument in the centre: the viola in solo and orchestral works

The instrument in the centre: the viola in solo and orchestral works
  • Richard Strauss
    Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, op. 35 (49 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Semyon Bychkov

    Máté Szűcs viola, Bruno Delepelaire cello

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E flat major, K. 364 (37 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Sir Simon Rattle

    Daishin Kashimoto Violin, Amihai Grosz Viola

  • Paul Hindemith
    Der Schwanendreher, Concerto on old folk songs for viola and small orchestra (28 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    François-Xavier Roth

    Tabea Zimmermann viola

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams
    Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (18 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Sir Simon Rattle

  • William Walton
    Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (Revised Version from 1962) (37 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Sir Simon Rattle

    Amihai Grosz viola

  • Anton Bruckner
    Symphony No. 4 in E flat major “Romantic” (2nd version from 1878/1880) (77 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Herbert Blomstedt

  • Béla Bartók
    Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Sz 120 (30 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Semyon Bychkov

    Tabea Zimmermann Viola

  • Gustav Mahler
    Symphony No. 10 (performing version by Deryck Cooke): Adagio (25 min.)

    Berliner Philharmoniker

    Claudio Abbado

There are not many works in the core repertoire of symphony orchestras in which the viola is allowed to play a leading role as a solo instrument. Composers such as Mendelssohn and Dvořák enjoyed playing the viola themselves – Beethoven could play the instrument so well that he was able to earn money as an orchestral violist in his hometown of Bonn – but in their solo concertos, all three gave preference to the piano and violin. This is one of the reasons why violists only rose to the rank of famous virtuosos in the course of the 20th century. 

Tabea Zimmermann, who is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Artist in Residence for the 2020/21 season, belongs to this exclusive circle. She started off her residency by playing Paul Hindemith’s concerto known as Der Schwanendreher. This performance is included in this playlist, as is Zimmermann’s 2010 rendition of Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto. The soloist made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1992 with this famous last work by the composer. 

The viola shines as the violin’s dialogue partner in Mozart’s joyful Sinfonia concertante. In Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, on the other hand, it humorously characterises the companion of the sad figure of the knight, portrayed by the cello. In symphonic works by Bruckner and Mahler, too, the instrument (used here as a chorus) repeatedly provides tonal and melodic emphasis. The Philharmoniker’s principal violist Amihai Grosz once aptly remarked: “If the orchestra were a body, the violas would be the heart”.