Neharot Neharot (2006/7) for viola solo, accordion, percussion, two string ensembles and tape by Israeli composer Betty Olivero opens a haunting album from violist Kim Kashkashian. It is a slow awakening—not into light, but into twilight—and swells with the wounds of fresh tragedy. Kashkashian arrives as if by wind and with the raw imperfection of an unpreened bird. The tone and feeling are not unlike that of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil at its tensest moments. The strings roil like turgid waters in which eddy the relics of an unseen war. Two women’s voices reach into the storm with tendrils of mimicry. This call and response blossoms into a profound moment of rupture, at which point the orchestra and percussion spill over one another.
The sound quality is good and the performances are excellent. I recently had the opportunity to compare Kashkashian's performance with Hindemith's own 1930s recording and while I naturally give props to Hindemith for recording his own work I like Kashkashian's performance of the Op. 24 viola sonata more– not just for sound but for the speed and fire she puts into the wild fourth movement. Hindemith's contribution to viola repertoire is probably the single most important one of the 20th century and this is probably the best available recording of his works. It includes all the solo and with-piano works on just two discs. It's also nice that Kashkashian and Levin recorded the viola works that were unpublished during Hindemith's lifetime, giving us a fuller insight into his work for the instrument than we might otherwise hear.
These two sonatas, originally written for clarinet, marked the end of an intense period of depression for Brahms, during which his creative energies had all but faded. Kim Kashkashian, whose command of the viola unearths an even deeper realm of possibility in this already engaging diptych, faithfully captures the somber circumstances of its creation. In doing so, she shows that the viola is no less an instrument of breath, drawing from deep within her lungs the sheer vocal power required to carry across such arresting music.
These soulful Spanish and Argentinean songs arranged by violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist Robert Levin are well suited to their expressive and expansive playing. Most of the songs, ranging from works by Granados, de Falla, and Montsalvatge to early Ginastera, are written in a late romantic to early modern idiom, and many incorporate a strong folk element. The selections include rowdy, rhythmically charged dance-like songs, tender lullabies, and many flavors of love songs, from the exultant to the despairing. In addition to the better-known composers, Argentineans Carlos Guastavino and Carlos López-Buchardo make extraordinarily fine contributions. The choices of repertoire are excellent; each one of these songs is a jewel, and the ordering of the selections artful, including the surprisingly effective repetition of two songs at different points in the program. The transcriptions are inventive and imaginative, with the vocal lines idiomatically adapted for the viola's expressive capabilities.
The great viola player Kim Kashkashian has long been one of the most outstanding protagonists of modern composition and this bold and subtle account of solo music by the great Hungarian composers György Kurtág and György Ligeti is a landmark recording. Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages (1989- in progress) in its 19 aphoristic sections is as demanding as Ligeti’s Sonata for viola (1991-94), but Kashkashian surmounts the very different challenges of the works, and points towards the qualities that unite these composers. As ever, she gets to the heart of the music, and unravels its secrets.
This is a breathtakingly beautiful recording – Kashkashian has always been masterful in selecting the elements of her albums, but she’s outdone herself here. She performs works by Betty Olivero, Tigran Mansurian, Komitas and Eitan Steinberg – the settings include a viola-percussion duet, a piece for viola and small ensemble with tape, a solo piano piece (performed by Mansurian), a piece for viola and orchestra and one for viola and string quartet.
The first two works are for viola and a battery of percussion instruments. Pourtinade, in nine sections with highly descriptive titles whose order is decided by the performers, elicits every possible sound and color effect from the viola, and an extraordinary range of blending and contrasting textural timbres from the instrumental combinations. "Redwood," inspired by Japanese woodcuts, uses the percussion as melody instruments; often it seems incredible that a single player can produce such a wealth of sounds. Opening softly and mysteriously, it becomes quite active, and then a beautiful viola solo fades away. The Shostakovich Sonata, written in the shadow of death, is heartbreakingly moving in its lamentatious mournfulness and turbulently desperate outbursts. The piano texture is pared down to skeletal spareness; the viola mourns in the dark low register and soars radiantly up high. The Scherzo is defiantly sardonic; the Finale, full of quotes from Beethoven, ends in resignation. The playing is beautiful and projects the changing moods with a riveting, inwardly experienced expressiveness.
Kim Kashkashian, who won a Grammy last year with her solo viola Kurtág/Ligeti disc, returns with a new trio. Tre Voci includes Italian-American flutist Marina Piccinini and Israeli harpist Sivan Magen. All three musicians have been acknowledged for bringing a new voice to their instruments. Kashkashian, Piccinini and Magen first played together at the 2010 Marlboro Music Festival, and agreed that the potential of this combination was too great to limit it to a single season.