As we joked already in the April Concert Planner, a recital of nothing but music for two violas scheduled for April 1, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, seemed like too obvious an April Fool's joke. If anyone could make it appealing, it was violist Kim Kashkashian, who has released a most admirable series of recordings for ECM. Kashkashian is a Midwesterner, born in Detroit and formerly a faculty member at Indiana, who has been teaching at New England Conservatory since 2000. On disc she has single-handedly surveyed a striking amount of the solo music for viola, both concertos and chamber pieces and focusing especially on contemporary music, and has furthermore adapted works for other forces and contributed arrangements of folk songs and other unusual repertories. In her hands even music that one might dismiss at first seems worth hearing.
So when Kashkashian proposed a program of music for two violas, with her former student Dimitri Murrath (and soon-to-be colleague on the NEC faculty), Ionarts was there. The program contrasted older music of the 18th and early 19th centuries with modern works. On the old side were three of the Vivaldi trio sonatas (RV 68, 70, and 77), originally for two violins and optional continuo, arranged as viola duos. The two instruments can approximate a startling amount of the full trio sonata texture, with one or the other providing the bass fundamental on the downbeat and trading melodic fragments and accompany motifs. Listening to these pieces one had the sense of the teacher Vivaldi, putting a star student through her paces, and thus it was in this performance, generally with the less accomplished Murrath on the first part, only at times at a tempo slightly too fast for technical control but with a well-honed sense of ensemble cooperation between the two. At times, one wished for more searing tone on the high-flying solo passages of the first part, too, but these pieces were all very pleasing and RV 70, in particular, stood out as an especially satisfying challenge. It was balanced on the second half with a duo by Alessandro Rolla, a pioneer in creating repertory for the viola, an equally lovely work more in the Classical style.
Joe Banno, Kim Kashkashian and Dimitri Murrath at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington Post, April 2)
The next concert in the Shenson Chamber Music Concert series at the National Museum of Women in the Arts will feature pianist Valentina Lisitsa (May 20, 7:30 pm), playing a program reportedly to include Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata and the first Rachmaninoff sonata. These concerts are free to the public and require only an RSVP reservation in advance.