I’d like to have a copy of this release readily available at all times. I would shove it into the hands of every person I heard complain about “unlistenable” modern music and demand they listen to it.

Amanda Harberg is a thoroughly modern composer who is unafraid of a beautiful melody. Her 2012 Concerto for Viola and Orchestra was commissioned by violist Brett Deubner (who performs it here). Harberg doubles down on the expressive quality of the viola, and it pays off. This lyrical work is astonishingly beautiful.

Her 2007 Elegy is a heartfelt memorial to a former teacher. It’s a quieter, more personal work. The warmth of the viola in the middle and lower registers gives the music an introspective, intimate feel.

Max Wolpert has a somewhat eclectic background, equally at home with traditional folk music as with classical. His 2015 Viola Concerto, “Giants” is as accessible and engaging as Harberg’s music, but in a different way.

Wolpert’s meters are more complex — sometimes almost jittery in their rapid changes. (And that’s fine with me.) His melodies seem more open-ended and develop in interesting ways.

The second and third movements borrow from various folk traditions, blended together in a fascinating melange that continually surprises and delights.

Brett Deubner performs with fire and passion. His playing often has a grittiness to it I really liked. Halberg and Wolpert write very accessible music – Deubner’s earthy playing keeps it from sounding pretty (which it is not) and superficial (which it is definitely not).

Thanks to Naxos for releasing this music. It brought two more contemporary composers to my attention whose music I want to explore.

Amanda Harberg: Viola Concerto; Elegy
Max Wolpert: Viola Concerto No. 1 “Giants”
Brett Deubner, viola; Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra; Linus Lerner, conductor
Naxos 8.559840