Cantabile: Anthems for Viola

The Jamaican–American violist Jordan Bak has already achieved international acclaim for his radiant stage presence, dynamic interpretations and fearless power.

In his Delphian debut,joined by the outstanding pianist Richard Uttley, he offers powerful readings of two substantial twentieth-century works – Arnold Bax’s Sonata for Viola and Piano and Benjamin Britten's Lachrymae: Reflections on a song of John Dowland, written respectively for Lionel Tertis and William Primrose – and sets them alongside more recent music for solo viola by Jonathan Harvey and Bright Sheng.

The viola’s capacity for deeply felt, wordless song is further explored in Augusta Read Thomas’s Song without Words, receiving its premiere recording in a version specially composed for Bak and Uttley.

"What’s special about this release is the eclectic menu assembled by a young Jamaican-American, Jordan Bak, who is clearly going places. Bak opens with a three-minute Chant by Jonathan Harvey, dinking back and forth between tonal and post-tonal contemplation. A Romance by Ralph Vaughan Williams, discovered among posthumous papers, is just what I need in these stressed-out times ... The album’s two most substantive, and sumptuous, pieces are by British composers. Arnold Bax’s viola sonata of 1922 is massively mellifluous, rippling with tunes that sound half-remembered and might even be original. Imagine Copland and Holst taking a country walk. The finale is so satisfying ... Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae: Reflections on a song of Dowland is at once deceptive and self-revealing. Britten uses only the first phrase of Dowland’s song but he enters so fully into the Tudor’s composer’s dolorous outlook that the two composers feel like brothers across two Elizabethan ages. Britten’s erudition, his elegance, his improvisational inspiration, power this piece like a runaway truck. Bak is skilled enough to bring it under control, and then some. His pianist, Richard Uttley, is daringly empathetic. If you don’t love viola, you will after hearing this"

★ ★ ★ ★

Piquant melodic fragments one second, furious double-stopping the next, the rough- voiced mixed up with the ethereal: that's the arresting substance of Jonathan Harvey's Chant. Happily, Bak's command of his instrument isn't remotely diminished when the musical language is more conventional. Vaughan Williams's early Romance might be pallid at first, but the height of passion is still reached; while the 27 minutes of Arnold Bax's Sonata, premiered by Tertis in 1922, inexorably lead us from Celtic melancholy to bumptious vigour and back again, with extra energy deriving from the constant interplay between Baks's viola and Richard Uttley's incisive piano. The two make a wonderful team, and are further blessed by the warm acoustic afforded by Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirk ... The rest of the 'anthems' in this collection traditionally showcase the viola's gifts for projecting the plaintive and rueful ... it's left to Britten's Dowland-inspired Lachrymae, written for Primrose, to shower us with magic, right from the opening bars of limpid arpeggios, shivery tremblings and John Dowland's solemn melody crawling along at the piano's lower end. With music- making as succulent as this, who needs jollification anyway?

★ ★ ★ ★

"The viola, middle voice of the string family, has had the advocacy of several virtuosic exponents over the past century, from pioneers such as William Primrose and Lionel Tertis in the past, to Lawrence Power and Tabea Zimmermann now. A new generation is coming forward with confidence. Jamaican-American Jordan Bak, already a recipient of many awards, is at the forefront. As the title suggests, his Cantabile: Anthems for Viola, with the British pianist Richard Uttley, emphasises the instrument’s singing qualities. The range of works, from Vaughan Williams to Jonathan Harvey, Augusta Read and Bright Sheng, creates an album of arresting variety. The most substantial works are Arnold Bax’s Sonata, a showcase for the expressive powers of this duo, and Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae – in which the ghost of the Elizabethan John Dowland hovers"

"We should commend Delphian for its ability to identify future talent and introduce a wealth of rarely recorded music. It’s a label that is not afraid to delve deep into different repertoires and produce brilliant soloists to capture the artistry of their instruments, which is laudable. This disc does just that ... on this release, Jordan Bak demonstrates his various skills and stage presence in captivating performances, whether solo or joined by Richard Uttley on piano. The selected pieces truly reflect the disc's title ... We hear Bak's viola's rich, full tone in the main work, Arnold Bax's rhapsodic sonata, with wonderfully controlled accompaniments from Uttley. The opening has Uttley's fingers tinkling high on the keyboard, before we hear the deep hues of Bak's lower register; both give a striking and impressive account. They convey the drama with an engaging rhythmic energy throughout, although the agitation subsides into an intense and sensitively played end to the final movement. The opener, Jonathan Harvey's Chant, is particularly noteworthy because Bak demonstrates his technical brilliance through his harmonic virtuosity ... The disc ends with Britten's Lacrymae Reflections on a Song of Dowland, and once again, Bak manages to showcase his instrument's timbre and tonal colours. Like so much on this disc, the considered playing with well-phrased lines, distinctive tone and technical brilliance, permeate through an assortment of delightful pieces"

The promise of Bak's 2022 recording debut is fully realised on this new release, which opens with a work for solo viola: Chant by the late British composer Jonathan Harvey. It’s an evocative piece with demanding double-stopping and a persistent drone effect offset by some tricky upper passage work. Bak offers a thoroughly convincing account of a work that calls for razor-sharp precision and considerable nerve ...Vaughan Williams’ lyrical Romanza provides immediate relief as well as introducing sympathetic pianist Richard Uttley into the mix. Both players are thoroughly inside the idiom here with Bak delivering an ardent, songful account of the melodic line over Uttley’s gently rocking accompaniment.There’s further contrast with The Stream Flows by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng ... Bak, whose line is intended to evoke a female singer comparing her absent lover to bright moonlight, captures the work’s wistful lyricism, bending and shaping the phrases to create an evocative picture of loneliness and love.

The Bax sonata – at nearly 30 minutes, a meaty, challenging work – forms the beating heart of the program ...Channelling his inner Irishman, Bak digs into the first movement’s folk-like themes, alternating between a misty, keening quality that summons the heart into the mouth and lively sections that exude an infectious, dancing energy. Uttley’s spirited pianism spurs his partner on to feats of melodic dexterity. The central movement is all demonic fire and brilliance, the jigging second subject bringing Bak’s virtuosic side to the fore. The darkling finale finds both musicians turning inwards to squeeze the last ounce of poetry from the music’s Celtic moodiness ...The lyrical loveliness of Augusta Read Thomas’s Song Without Words forms a bridge to the grand finale, a pitch-perfect account of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae. The latter, a set of reflections on a theme by Dowland that only reveal their origin in the final iteration, can prove intractable, but not here. Bak’s dramatist’s ear conjures a wide range of filigree colours as well as considerable technical wizardry to hold the attention throughout. The finale opens with a rush of adrenalin before both players plunge into the lingering stillness of Dowland’s melancholy melody ...Warmly recorded in natural sound, Cantabile is another winner from an artist well worth getting to know'



'Bak and Uttley playing with conviction and warmth ... the liner notes are excellent, as is the sound quality. With more than 67 minutes of interesting viola music, this new Delphian release should have great appeal to fans of quality chamber music'

read the full review here

Release Date: 20 May 2016
Catalogue No: DCD34158
Total playing time: 1:06:00


Singing In Secret: Clandestine Catholic Music by William Byrd CD Delphian Records


Vaughan Williams:Romance


Jordan and Richard perform Vaughan William's haunting Romance during recording sessions in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh ...

Album Booklet

You may also like ...

Olivier Stankiewicz: Mozart violin sonatas on oboe

Beau Soir: Debussy | Poulenc | Ravel | Satie

1919: Boulanger | Janáček | Elgar | Debussy

SOLA: Music for viola by women composers

Part of the YCAT series on Delphian

This partnership between Delphian Records and YCAT offers rare new recording opportunities for the most promising young artists, combining YCAT’s mission of developing careers at a world-class level with Delphian’s twenty-year-long reputation for bold, considered programming. The partnership will give the artists a unique experience – from initial concept planning, recording and editing to the final packaged and digital product – and will enhance Delphian and YCAT’s commitments to nurturing artists’ artistic development and long-term careers.

Read more about the partnership and discover the range of releases here