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Brahms & Friends: Music for Viola and Piano (Rec.)

"Brahms holds centre stage in this varied and well played collection for viola and piano"

Brahms - Viola Sonatas, Op.120, No 1 in F minor; No 2 in E flat
Joachim - Variations for Viola and Piano Op 10
Reinecke - Phantasiestucke for Viola and Piano, Op 43
Herzogenberg - Legenden, Op 62
Kiel -Three Romances, Op 69
Fuchs -Sechs Phantasiestucke, Op 117
Sitt - Albumblatter, Op 39
Music & Arts CD-1087(2) (70 min; DDD)

"The viola may possess neither the stratospheric brilliance nor the extroverted passion of the violin, but its mellow, yearning eloquence has inspired more than a few composers in the solo realm. 'Brahms and Friends', a two-CD set performed by the Zaslav Duo, further refutes the notion that the stringed instrument in the middle deserves to be the butt of jokes.

The programme includes the two magisterial sonatas by Brahms (originally for clarinet, but beautifully adapted by the composer for viola), and pieces by friends, associates, or musicians for whom he provided encouragement or motivation. None of the obscure works on the disc comes close in quality to the Brahms sonatas, though each score abounds in appealing romanticism and highly skilled craftsmanship.

Perhaps the finest are the Op 10 Variations for viola and piano by Joseph Joachim, who, while better known as a violinist, was a composer of formidable gifts whose expressive style may have rubbed off a bit on sometime-chum Brahms. Joachim's variations are lyrical and terse, with a hint of Hungarian blood toward the end that gives the set a distinctive tinge. The names of the other composers represented here - Carl Reinecke, Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Friedrich Kiel, Robert Fuchs, Hans Sitt - may ring only a bell or two, pointing out how undeserving musical neglect often can be.

Reinecke's Phantasiestucke are immediately irresistible and charming, and Sitt's glowing, poetic Albumblatter would fit handsomely into many a viola recital. The rest of the pieces are fine examples of composers who absorbed Romantic traditions without extending them in striking directions. Violist Bernard Zaslav and pianist Naomi Zaslav give everything exemplary consideration, probing the expressive depths even as they share musical thoughts with seamless vibrancy."

Donald Rosenberg, December 2001 - Gramophone Magazine

"Violists like to complain of the paucity of romantic music for their instrument, yet these two discs refute that contention. In addition to the famous two Brahms Sonatas, the discs feature unfamiliar, thoroughly Romantic works, by six of the composer's "friends." All are clearly influenced by Brahms and Schumann; indeed, the absence of the latter's "Marchenbilder" (Fairy Tale Pictures) is conspicuous and inexplicable. In a substantial set of Variations by Joseph Joachim, a lovely theme is transformed and developed in inventively contrasting ways, including a somber contrapuntal piece and a Hungarian semi-improvisation.

Three very Schumannesque "Phantasiestucke" (Fantasy Pieces) by Carl Reinecke, famous mostly for his "Undine" Flute Sonata, include a swooping Romance and a merry Humoresque. Similar in style but technically more brilliant are "Drei Romanzen" (Three Romances) by Friedrich Kiel. Heinrich von Herzogenberg, husband of Brahms's close friend and musical correspondent Elisabeth, contributes three very Brahmsian, melodious, passionate "Legenden" (Legends); Hans Sitt's "Albumblatter" (Album Leaves) display inventive harmonies, spoken phrasing, and effective instrumental writing; the final piece ends in mid-air. Probably the best composer is Robert Fuchs, whose "Sechs Phantasiestucke" (Six Fantasy Pieces) have adventurous harmonies, striking modulations, and strong contrasts of mood and character.

Letting the Brahms Sonatas open the program seems unfair to his "friends," though this can hardly have been the players' intention. Violist Bernard Zaslav and his pianist-wife Naomi are excellent, and they treat the music with total respect and love. The viola tone is beautiful, pure, warm, and expressive; ensemble and balance are first-rate. Their approach is lyrical, broad, expansive, noble, and inward, without external effects. The first Brahms Sonata is wistful, poetic, gracious; the second one smiles with autumnal benevolence. A worthy successor to the Zaslavs' Bloch disc on the same label, this is a splendid recording."

Edith Eisler, Editorial Reviews -

Franck / Milhaud Sonatas (Rec.)

"...the magnum opus of this superb recording by the Zaslav Duo happens to be a viola transcription of Cesar Franck's Sonata in A....Mrs. Zaslav possesses solid pianistic technique to go with her artistic sensibilities. Zaslav is a violist and musician of the first rank and together they perform with the easy partnership of years of experience..the viola glows with the deep tones of stained glass...supple, yet firm. ardent yet altogether unforced. The duo's comfortable ensemble makes dramatic dialogue of Franck's third movement recitative-fantasy and gives wings to the finale's wonderful lyricism."

"Album of the Year" - Aug. 27, 1976 - MILWAUKEE SENTINEL

"Throughout the careful interplay of the viola and piano lines (which really do not sound careful at all), with an exciting yet tasteful mix of changes in tempi and dynamics and by spinning out phrases to the utmost degree that reason allows, they achieve what one is led to believe Franck himself surely must have sought to achieve - but just didn't quite know how to bring it off. Somewhere, he must be saying: "Thank you"."

"Debut Recording-Artist of the Year" Winter 1978 - DEVOTEE MAGAZINE

"That their grasp of the material is complete is not surprising, for these are the very works such a duo would surely perform most frequently, but the gorgeous tone, affectionate commitment, and enlivening give-and-take in evidence here are factors that can never be assumed or taken for granted, no matter how long any performers may have worked together. The sound itself is exceptionally rich and well balanced."

Recording of Special Merit" - June, 1981- STEREO MAGAZINE

"Your recordings  of the Franck and the Milhaud are superb!! I listened to the Franck twice and found it to be so beautiful, sensitive and technically perfect that I honestly can't think of more musical performance on records. Thank you for playing so wonderfully and my deepest appreciation. I love you!!"

May, 1976 - Letter from Distinguished Professor - Josef Gingold
School of Music - Indiana University

Brahms Op.120 Sonatas (Rec.)

"This recording of the two Brahms Sonatas, Op.120, deserves to become a collector's item; not so much because there are so few absolutely sterling performances of theses works on disc but because it must rank among the most sympathetic readings of these compositions, regardless of who or how many artists have recorded them before there can be no doubt that their recreation here by the Zaslavs is truly a labor that all but transcends love - if that is possible.  In the slow movement of this sonata, Mr. Zaslav somehow stretches bar lines beyond the possible, sustaining line and sonority to evoke a mood of sublime beauty.

March/April,1981 - DEVOTEE MAGAZINE

"If I needed one word to sum up the performances of the Zaslav Duo here, it would be "loving". Always apparent - though never too obvious - is the care that has gone into the preparation of this recording. Ensemble is immaculate down to the last semiquaver...but this is not altogether surprising, considering that the Zaslavs have been playing these works together for the last 20 or so years...Naomi Zaslav's scrupulous placing of chords and pedaling mark her out as a very fine Brahms pianist...Bernard Zaslav's supple phrasing consistently holds the attention....A highly recommended disc." July, 1981 - The STRAD

"The Zaslavs revel in the many opportunities Brahms provides for melodic interplay, performing with unanimity of phrase and ensemble. No technical problems intrude: Zaslav's string tone is uncommonly pure and precise in intonation."

May 1, 1981 - The LOS ANGELES TIMES

"The Zaslav Duo has made what is the definitive recording of these two sonatas (Brahms Op.120). The viola soars effortlessly in the long canzones wonderfully backed by the piano. All the nooks and crannies of these works have been mastered and explored from all aspects of sound and rhythm."


"Your recording of the Brahms Sonatas is as beautiful, powerful and musical as one can ever hear it! Thank you for allowing me to share a great treat.

As ever, your devoted - Joe."

Feb.5, 1983 - Letter from Distinguished Professor - Josef Gingold
School of Music - Indiana University

"The Zaslav's produce exceptional performances of the viola sonatas, with Mr. Zaslav's tone unusually appealing, and with the phrasing of both players superbly integrated."

Levering Bronson - 1986 - THE NEW RECORDS

Ernest Bloch: Music for Viola and Piano (Rec.)

" Bernard Zaslav contributes the unfinished Solo Suite, on which Bloch was working when he died, which makes this the most comprehensive Bloch viola CD ...the performances are magnificent. Bernard Zaslav, who plays the ex-Villa, ex-Hobday 1781 J.B. Guadagnini, has been a leading member of the US viola fraternity for close on 50 years. He and his wife have been performing together in public since 1962 and I already treasure their interpretations of Franck, Milhaud and Brahms. The great 1919 Suite is delivered with immense breadth and power..This Bloch program will go up on the shelf next to them. Recommended!"

Dec. 1996, Tully Potter - The STRAD

"Thanks to this CD we can become acquainted with a number of pieces that he wrote between 1919 and 1950 for viola and piano... Some important influences can be noted from Debussy and Liszt, but also from the classics and even of Webern. All of this is most evident here, featuring excellent and highly dedicated performances of music, ranging in various moods from melancholy to passionate. Especially moving is Bloch's last unfinished work, the Suite for Solo Viola, masterfully played here by Zaslav."

(Translated from Dutch) -  M. 't H. - 1997 - LUISTER MAGAZINE

"Dvorak's Viola " (Rec.)

"Bernard Zaslav has transcribed an entire programme of delightful music for the viola.  The Zaslavs play well throughout..There is much enjoyable listening to be had from this disc..and the presentation is admirable."

Tully Potter - The STRAD


"The Stanford String Quartet's appetite for unhackneyed repertoire seems insatiable. You could spend a whole lifetime attending chamber music concerts and never encounter Milhaud's jazzy, debonair 1925 effusion (Qt. No.7) or Frank Bridge's 1905 opus(Qt. No.1), the principal discovery of this impeccably engineered CD. The craft of the writing is unassailable and the slow movement is a gorgeous song not easily forgotten. The SSQ lends Gabriel Faure's only string quartet a rounded sonority and an unhurried lyricism. On the evidence here, the group remains the outstanding ensemble of its kind in the Bay Area."

Jan.6, 1995 - Allan Ulrich - The SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

"The boldness of Stanford University's resident quartet resounds again on this second all-20th-century CD. This time it's music of two neo-romantics (Faure, Bridge) and one genteel rebel (Milhaud). Darius Milhaud's terse String Quartet No.7 definitely reflects the French polytonal touch, blended with fine pastoral scenes. The Bridge Quartet No.1 is most influenced by Brahms, Debussy and the darker colors of viola and cello. The meticulously crafted E Minor Quartet, Op.121 by Gabriel Faure was a swan song work written at age 80, full of silky-fine lines and phrases and considerable animation. It's one you'll want to listen to over and over."

Dec.18, 1994, Paul Hertelendy - The SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

"These performances show the Stanford Quartet to be an accomplished team able to meet with assurance the severe technical demands of these works not only as individuals but as an ensemble. However, their powerful interpretation of Bridge's first essay in the genre takes the accolade. They prove themselves to be fully in tune with the architecture and complex inner detail of the piece and are equally at home in the passionate opening movement and in the ingratiating Scherzo and the deeply expressive second movement. The testing finale, agitated and intense but with some reflective solo comments from the viola, is managed in exemplary style.''

Robin Stowell - The STRAD

CONCERTS - (Duo and Solo)

"The violist, Bernard Zaslav gave a most charming account of a most welcome Sonata by W. F. Bach."


"..imagination and sensitivity, and the richness of the violist, Bernard Zaslav, was wonderful to hear."


"Beautiful viola playing......fine collaboration."


".. At the close of this sonata, the Zaslav Duo was recalled four times"


"Mr. Zaslav is an able, solid instrumentalist...a string player of major attainments."


"..interpretation coupled with the free baroque ornamentations created the closest kind of teamwork and placed the artists in a true partnership. The viola is an instrument of deep, sonorous beauty and Zaslav is a proven master of his instrument...The recital was a joy that whetted the appetite.


"Bernard Zaslav set the tone of the evening with a brilliant execution of the Telemann Concerto. Zaslav's full bodied tone and superb technique demonstrated why the instrument is so prized for romances. The cadenza of his own authorship, while filled with double-stops and chords, stayed close to the melodic line.......A glorious concert!"

Dec. 20, 1968 - The MILWAUKEE SENTINEL

"It's hard to understand why the viola is so seldom heard as a solo instrument, and why so few composers have written for it. In the hands of a masterful musician such as Bernard Zaslav, the lush and mellow beauty of its tone is unforgettable. Pietro Nardini's (1722-1793) sonata was richly lyrical, and Zaslav made the beautiful lines sing with compelling emotion, nicely supported by his wife, pianist Naomi Zaslav. It was a work of passion and tenderness, all worked out in a framework of 18th-century elegance and civility. There was passion in Shostakovich's sonata as well, but of a different nature. The Zaslavs brought the disturbing, raw emotions to life. The Allegretto had an almost primitive feel to it, while the viola solo at the opening of the Adagio had a plaintive cry that made the most of the instrument's compelling contralto tones."

Karen Monson - Feb.10, 1986  - The TIMES-TRIBUNE

"Immediately striking was the deep sonority of the viola in contrast to the all-too-commonly heard violin. In the context of this romantically emotional work, the sure stroke and strong command of mood found in the play of Bernard Zaslav's viola conveyed a personal confidence and love for the subtle contrasts that make up a composition. A captivating, exciting work ("From my Garden" by Ursula Mamlok). A captivating, exciting work, the insightful rendition given by Bernard Zaslav held one breathless. His zestful play releases the artistic quality of the music with a minimum of gestures and superfluous emotionalism, alike"


"Some Majestic Moments"

"The other two concerts produced some good combinations of Kneisel faculty and guest artists. One particularly fine duo, Bernard Zaslav, violist and guest artist Naomi Zaslav, played the Dvorak Sonatina in G Major, Op.100 with great skill, musicianship, and the robust style characteristic of Dvorak. Mrs. Zaslav's bell-like piano tone was very impressive."


CONCERTS - (Quartets)

Edinburgh Festival - "Violist's distinction to quartet"

"The Fine Arts Quartet, which substituted at the last moment for the La Salle at yesterday's Freemason's Hall concert, consists of four players each of whom is very fine instrumentalist in his own right. The violist, in particular, has a penetrating warmth and fullness of tine which lent distinction to the slow movement of Ravel's quartet. In Karel Husa's quartet No. 3, too, the first movement is largely built round the viola, whose rhapsodical figures play a large part in determining the movement's character."

Aug. 27, 1971-Martin Cooper- The DAILY TELEGRAPH (London)

"Recital: "Marlboro's Vermeer Quartet"

"The Vermeer Quartet lived up to it's name in Merkin Hall Monday night. The music played by these string players was given a texture that was as luminous and evocative as their namesake's paintings.The viscerally sensuous effect of the playing came from clarity of vision and understanding, from poise and proportion. And in Beethoven's Quartet in B flat (Op.18, No.6) the players painted an uncanny aural image of the score, gracefully illuminating it's structure."

Feb. 4, 1983 - Edward Rothstein - The NEW YORK TIMES

"The Vermeer Quartet, not content with unusually precise and accomplished ensemble playing or a standard of muscianship in which imagination assumes as much importance as integrity, managed to convey a rare insight into these works that makes the prospect of hearing a complete (Beethoven) cycle at their hands a most appealing one. The blend is rich but never bland because the individual timbre of each voice is maintained at the expense of unity, and the resulting sound is vibrant, colourful and infinitely flexible."

Wigmore Hall, London - June 1984 - The STRAD

"How shall I say it. For once the music was so totally fulfilled that words are only intrusive. This is a case of one of the most perfect Quartets that one can hear today..a sensitivity which recalls the greatest eloquence of the century. What magic the Vermeer Quartet has touched!

Mar. 31, 1982 - TRIBUNE de GENEVE

"Listening to a group that produces sounds as refined as these, you somehow think that if an earthquake rattled the ground around it and swallowed up the audience, it would play serenely, imperturbably on. An illusion of course. The most exacting care goes into musicianship like this. Ideas and egos bump. Perspiration flows. Yet the end product - the music that comes out - is the highest art. Probably nowhere in the United States today is there another string quartet that plays with such purity of tone and meticulous ensemble as the Vermeer. It is tempting to say a group like this can never make an ugly sound. But in the Britten 3rd Quartet, the Vermeer did it in such passages as the grotesque waltzing of the Burlesque. Yet this ugliness was another form of beauty. Is it possible to make a beautiful ugly sound? If anybody can do it, the Vermeer Quartet can.

Tanglewood - July 16, 1982 - The BERKSHIRE EAGLE

"Stravinsky's crabbed little Three Pieces (1914) were dispatched with terrific aplomb - and the only genuine soft playing of the evening. Subsequently, the Bartok Sixth Quartet was huge, in sonority and emotional wallop...The addition of Bernard Zaslav, a former stalwart of the Fine Arts Quartet, allows the Vermeer - never a faint-toned group - to produce a strikingly homogeneous sonority, one of the largest and darkest in quartetdom."

Mar.5, 1982 - the LOS ANGELES TIMES

"The Vermeer Quartet stretched ears and warmed hearts at the Pabst Theater Tuesday in its Artist Series at the Pabst recital. Leos Janacek's "Intimate Letters" Quartet is rife with exciting chases, tremulous flights, tension-filled confrontations and abrupt ascents into ethereal melodies that often dissolve into mysteriously weird sounds. The visitors essayed this expressive kaleidoscope of contrasting rhythms, styles and timbres with remarkable aplomb and verve. As varied as the program was, it contrived to showcase the familiar, big voice of Bernard Zaslav's viola. It was a pleasure to relish the Zaslav sound once more."

Apr. 29, 1981-Jay Joslyn -The MILWAUKEE SENTINEL

"Season Opens at Kneisel Hall" (Blue Hill, Maine)

"In the viola solo that opened the third movement (Faure Piano Quartet, Op.45) Bernard Zaslav poured out the warmest, most fluid tone that I have heard in a long time. What an artist!"