Frederick Riddle

Frederick Riddle was one of the most eminent viola players of his time.

Riddle and his older contemporary William Primrose were of the generation of British violists inspired by the example of the brilliant Lionel Tertis. Primrose, who had an even bigger and more voluptuous tonal range on the viola than Riddle, migrated early in his career to the United States, where he won international fame. Both players scaled great musical heights, with their flawless technical certainty, perfect intonation, bravura fingering and bowing control, on an instrument which is physiologically awkward to master - demanding uncommonly long arms and a powerful neck.

Having first studied at the Royal College of Music, in London, Riddle later taught his instrument there and also at Trinity College of Music. He played in the London Symphony Orchestra from 1933 to 1938 and the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1938 to 1953, and succeeded Harry Danks as principal violist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Thomas Beecham in 1953.

As a soloist Riddle won renown as a droll Sancho Panza in Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, as a convinced exponent of Vaughan Williams's sumptuous Flos Campi (an eloquent recording, coupled with Vaughan Williams's Viola Suite, was recently re-issued on CD), and in two other important repertory works. Riddle's passionate performance in the first recording of Walton's Viola Concerto (1937, for which Tertis recommended him), with the composer conducting, will burnish his fame for future generations, differing as it does from the recordings by Primrose and by Yehudi Menuhin.

Another of Riddle's recordings to cherish is his performance in Berlioz's Harold in Italy, a marvellous rendering, the soloist incandescent, with Hermann Scherchen conducting the London Philharmonic. Riddle gave four performances of Harold in Italy under Beecham (in 1953 and 1956), one at least of which was recorded and a pirate LP issued in the US. Beecham again invited Riddle to be soloist in Walton's concerto in May 1956, at the Festival Hall. An eager exponent of contemporary music, Riddle joined Beecham in Rubbra's Viola Concerto at the Festival Hall, in 1954, and premiered Giorgio Ghedini's concerto (1953), also with Beecham.

Riddle was good-natured, a genial colleague, a sympathetic teacher. His passionate musicality was twinned with deep cultural awareness. He had a personal warmth of manner which never infringed stylistic good taste and the highest musical standards.

Alan Denson

Frederick Craig Riddle, viola player: born Liverpool 20 April 1912; OBE 1980; married 1936 Audrey Langford (died 1994; marriage dissolved), 1946 Helen Clare (three daughters); died Newport, Isle of Wight 5 February 1995.

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