Armenian-American violist Kim Kashkashian, one of the major musical voices of ECM New Series, introduces a new duo with Russian composer-pianist Lera Auerbach. Their first recording together features Auerbach’s viola and piano version of Dmitri Shostakovich’s often playful 24 Preludes op. 34, and Auerbach’s own, darker, sonata for viola and piano, Arcanum. Lera Auerbach says, “Arcanum means ‘mysterious knowledge’, and I was fascinated by the inner voice within each of us, some may call it perhaps intuition, some maybe guided meditation, but there is some knowledge that we have, which we may not necessarily verbalize or rationalize, but that allows us to see the truth, to be guided, to seek answers.” Auerbach wrote her sonata for Kashkashian: “There is a quality of life-or-death-intensity to her performing, which is rare and wonderful.”
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 It's also nice that Kashkashian and Levin recorded the viola works that were unpublished during Hindemith's lifetime, giving us a fuller insight into his work for the instrument than we might otherwise hear.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.
Eleni Karaindrou's long, fruitful partnership with Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos has given birth to several scores for his award-winning films. However, perhaps no previous Karaindrou score contains the evocative power of her compositions for Ulysses' Gaze, the film about memory, artistic quests, and war that won the Grand Prix du Jury at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
Tigran Mansurian's music is rooted in Armenian folk and church music filtered through contemporary Europeans, especially Bartók. In many respects he resembles other post-Soviet composers like Schnittke and Svirdov, sharing their combination of elusiveness and accessibility. Kim Kashkashian has long championed his works, and the outstanding violist is superb here. She's the center of gravity in the Viola Concerto, titled "…and then I was in time again," a quote from Faulkner and resembling his stream-of-consciousness style. The complex interplay of soloist and 18 strings fascinates, the two going their own ways and coming together again in unpredictable fashion but always to expressive effect. It's in two movements, the first more dramatic, the second poignant. In Lachrymae,.. –Dan Davis
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 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.