DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

RECORD KEEPING | Pemi Paull's Musicum Umbrarum Puts The Viola In Its Dark Place

By Michael Vincent on January 25, 2019

What it lacks in hits, Pemi Paull’s Musicum Umbrarum makes up for as a treasure trove of intimate portraits played by the moody middling member of the illustrious string family.

Tempting as it may be to start a review of a solo viola album with a viola joke (and I love me a good viola joke), there is nothing to lark about here. 

The main reasons are Pemi Paull, a musician who has made a career as a go-to violist in Montréal and Toronto, and his debut album, Musicum Umbrarum.

Before digging into the merits of this album, the musical string family can be summarized as follows: the firstborn violin is the perennial favourite; the showiest of the bunch with the first place ribbons to prove it. The cello is the slightly mysterious one in the family, who read a lot of Dostoyevsky a kid. The bass can pretty much get away with anything with a flex of muscle and, if need be, the threat of violence.  The viola, mind you, is the shy misunderstood middle child who never really got a good shake, (or vibrato in this case).

Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!

While this occasion offers a chance to wag a finger for not paying enough attention to the viola, no other instrument shines brighter as the colour between the lines, that without it, would leave a pale outline — an unrealized object — a blurry figure that a good pair of glasses would do wonders for.

Enter Musicum Umbrarum, an album of lesser-known solo viola works released on Métis Island records.

Staying true to the label’s tagline “we fly alone between islands”, you’ll not find any top 40 viola hits here. No Schumann Märchenbilder. No Brahms Sonatas. Nothing famous by Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorák, Mendelssohn, and Vaughan Williams. This is music from (mostly) 20th-century composers, where the palate is darker, anxious, and searching.

Opening with Enescu’s calling “Ménétrier (Impressions d’enfance, op.28)”, this piece shuffles with the favour of a country jamboree. But unlike most fiddle tunes, things turn blue, almost as if to harken back to the secret pain of an off-duty Irish cowboy.

Scott Godin’s Arte Brut inspired “Wolfli Sketches” shows Paull navigating a painfully brooding first movement, through a second movement that transforms the viola into a self-made duet with double stops and harmonics galore. Paull stays true to the colourful mandalas of “the mad genius” Adolf Wölfli, and the playing is just as thoughtful.

Besides the Ligeti Viola Sonata, which could have benefited from more ambiance from Montreal’s Pollack Hall, and added phrasing to allow the labyrinthine of angular lines to move beyond the score, it is Mahler’s “Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5 and Michael Finnissy’s “Obrecht Motteten III” that catch the most attention.

“Obrecht Motteten III” is an ode to the great Flemish-Dutch renaissance composer Jakob Obrecht. It’s an incredible composition which pulls from the same churches that one would have heard Obrecht composing in during the 14th-century. Think expertly drawn with lines that resemble sunlight shining through stained-glass on a Sunday afternoon.

The Mahler wins respect as a boiled down pizzicato arrangement of Mahler’s “Adagietto’ — a love song to his new wife, Alma. It is a perfect encore, and easily the most charming piece on the album.

This debut by Pemi Paull shows a soloist who plays for the right reasons, and offers some much-needed attention on this oft-overlooked instrument in a solo capacity.

Verdict: Recommended

Buy it here, here, or here.

Michael Vincent
Follow me

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
Follow me
Michael Vincent
Follow me

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
Follow me
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

THE SCOOP | Canadian Pianist Takes First Prize At Inaugural China International Music Competition

By Anya Wassenberg on May 21, 2019

Toronto-based pianist Tony Siqi Yun takes home the $150,000 USD prize from the first-ever China International Music Competition, held in Beijing.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Davidsen And Fleming: A Tale Of Two Sopranos Coming And Going

By Norman Lebrecht on June 7, 2019

A soprano at the start of her journey cuts a debut album as another reaches what must be the end. The contrasts are simply too compelling to ignore.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

REPORT | Why We Like Certain Music: The Brain And Musical Preference

By Anya Wassenberg on May 31, 2019

Research suggests that musical preferences have much more to do with innate personality traits and than we first thought.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.