Spohr, Rolla and Kalliwoda are not names which trip immediately off the tongue, and yet all were famous violin virtuosi of their day. In a new CD, Vaughan Jones and Riad Chibah are exploring lesser known repertoire at the same time as exploring a less frequently used form: the violin and viola duo.

The form presents serious challenges for the composer. Unlike a solo piece, the duo cannot be a simple demonstration of an individual's virtuosity: rather, the musical range of a concerto or piano piece must be filled with just two instruments, neither of which, other than the occasional double-stop, can play chords. The three composers here all draw from a large toolbox of techniques to address the problem: in each case, a different one caught my ear. Spohr uses repeated arpeggios on the viola to give the piece a concerto-like feel, with the viola standing in for a whole orchestra. Rolla uses a more contrapuntal feel, often with the viola playing alternating notes in each of two lines to emulate two voices. Kalliwoda brings the two players together for a more harmonic approach. It seemed to me that all three pieces were very, very technically challenging to play (I'm not a string player, so I can't be categoric about this): Jones and Chibah certainly handle them with ease, precision and energy. Perhaps a little too much ease and energy: the Spohr is played at a frenetic pace, and (unusually) I found myself wondering what had happened to the "Moderato" in the first movement's tempo marking. Even the Adagio is moved along quite swiftly.

It's a strange thing that for a few selected composers in each era, every work and fragment is siezed upon and played, whereas for lesser mortals, even their lifetime masterpieces are forgotten. In the Bachtrack database for the "classical" period, there have been performances of 165 pieces by Mozart, 116 by Haydn, 13 by Weber and almost nothing else. Bach, Handel and Vivaldi occupy similar positions in baroque.

It's therefore welcome to see some performers branching out and exploring exciting, vivid pieces from outside those top few, and Manor House's CD is a good and unusual addition to the repertoire.

(The disc is available as a download from http://www.instantencore.com)