Until recent efforts by Nicolas Deletaille to revive it, the arpeggione was pretty much written off as a defunct instrument, more suited to the museum case than the concert hall. As the name implies, it was designed with arpeggiation in mind and is basically a hybrid of guitar and cello. Like the viols it is bowed and fretted, but the above photograph suggests that the fret system is far more sophisticated than that of either the viols or the guitar and appears to be adjustable on a string-by-string basis.
Franz Schubert’s D. 821 sonata was written for pianoforte and arpeggione and has been subjected to a variety of arrangements to suit contemporary performance. As can be seen in the video at the left, Deletaille performs this sonata with fortepiano accompaniment. In his arrangement for viola and piano, Fred Nachbaur observes (in comments reproduced on the IMSLP page for this sonata) that the arpeggione had a narrow dynamic range and that, in Schubert’s score, dynamics louder than piano are rare. This can pose a major problem for modern instruments, particularly if the accompanist is performing on a grand piano. (One is not aware of the subtlety of dynamic level in the attached video, however, probably because of microphone placement.)
In an effort to restore the intimacy of the sonata, the Swedish guitar virtuoso Göran Söllscher arranged D. 821 for violin with guitar accompaniment. This would have transferred the duties of keeping the dynamics under control to the violinist. This version may have been the one performed last night at the Viola Department Recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). (It may also have amounted to a synthesis of Nachbaur’s viola part with Söllscher’s guitar part.)
The result was thoroughly delightful. The viola well served the sonorities of the lower register that would have been associated with the arpeggione. The guitar kept the dynamics to the properly subdued level, and the violist never overpowered the guitarist. In the relatively limited space of the SFCM Recital Hall, one could easily appreciate that sense of intimacy that could be associated with not only D. 821 but also the general aspect of the “chamber” in “chamber music.” In was an imaginative take on the spirit of Schubert’s score without the obligation to follow letter of his instrumentation.