Michal Bryla is the violist of the Meccore String Quartet, whose recent recording of Penderecki's complete string chamber music for Capriccio elicited an enthusiastically positive review from me. Listening to that disc, I noted more than once what a glorious tone their violist produced. And such is the case on his solo album of the music of Telemann.
First a disclaimer: I received this disc gratis from the performer in consideration for review. Even though I am no fan of Telemann, I gladly accepted, remembering how wonderful his playing sounded on the Penderecki recording.
This release appears on the relatively new Prelude Classics label, of which Mr. Bryla is the founder, publisher, producer and recording engineer! To consider this level of involvement in a recording project from start to finish is difficult to fathom. But it is, in the end, most impressive in every way.
The program lasts just under 75 minutes and thus fits perfectly on a single disc. So I was surprised to find 2 discs inside the folded cardboard enclosure. I was fascinated to discover that it includes both a hybrid multi-channel/stereo SACD and a 24-carat Gold CD version of the program. As an audiophile, my first order of business was to compare the sonics between the two.
I listened to the stereo (2-channel) layer of the SACD, as I do not have surround sound capability in my home. This actually made the comparison even fairer - stereo to stereo, SACD to CD. And both provide outstanding sound. But as good as the CD sounds, the SACD is even better.
I started with the SACD and was immediately impressed with the spaciousness of the acoustic. It is gorgeously colorful, with just enough warmth to be inviting, without being in the slightest over-reverberant. The viola itself is naturally sized and ideally distanced from the listener. It is perfectly centered and fills the acoustic with a palpable realism. And instantly I smiled, recognizing Bryla's tone - beautiful and richly textured without being at all husky or robust. It is certainly the most lovely viola sound I have heard on record.
Switching to the CD, the sound is extremely similar but somehow became just a bit less expressive. And the acoustic lost some of its spacious lushness. The viola is now a touch more present. Not to make too much of it though, it's still excellent recorded sound, merely coming from a slightly different perspective. And if I hadn't just heard the SACD, I would sing the CD's praises without qualification. However, comparing the two side by side demonstrates the superiority of SACD over standard CD. Confirming these impressions, I went back to the SACD and was once again struck by the relaxed realism of the viola and the spaciousness of the acoustic. As a result, I found the music-making to be more involving and engrossing.
As noted above, I am no expert in the music of Telemann and can't say I have any recordings of his music among the nearly 10,000 CDs on my shelves. I was initially reluctant to embark on a 75 minute program of his music, especially played entirely by unaccompanied solo instrument. However, I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. As a matter of fact, I was drawn into the music so completely, I found it difficult to concentrate solely on the sonics. I think I could listen to this violist play just anything all day long.
Truthfully, though, I didn't make it all the way through this Telemann program in one sitting. But I thoroughly enjoyed about 45 minutes of it before I was ready for a break. Bryla plays with a beguiling variety of expression, including endless tonal colors and varying speed and intensity of vibrato. He can play a passage with simple expression and minimal vibrato, then follow it with a touch of warmth with his use of vibrato and dynamic contrasts, caressing a phrase with a hint of sweetness which engages the listener in unexpected ways.
Yet it's not overly Romantic. His playing is always stylish and suitable for the period. At the same time, he infuses the music with a natural, effortless musicality which is alluring. Sure, there are touches of Romantic expression when the music calls for it (which occurred more often than I would have expected in Telemann), but it is judiciously and musically implemented, coming directly from the heart.
I enjoyed this release more than I would have ever imagined. And in all honesty, I have gained a newfound appreciation for Telemann after listening to it. I can't think of a stronger recommendation for a new recording than that.