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Kim Kashkashian

Kim KashkashianAs 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.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Kim Kashkashian and Dimitri Murrath at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington Post, April 2)
Best on the modern side of the program were ten of the vividly colored duos by Béla Bartók, again originally for two violins (last heard played by Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman). Now with Kashkashian mostly on the first part, these delectable miniatures provided a series of diversions for the ear, songs of burlesque comedians, rustic dances, a delicate balalaika-like serenade (the "Pizzicato"), and especially the breathless, buzzy exchange of the "Dance of the Fly." Other selections were a little snoozier and of less interest, like Lacrymae by Tigran Mansurian (b. 1939, and like Kashkashian of Armenian descent), originally for soprano saxophone and viola (from 1999 and recorded by Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek). The piece featured the throaty lower-string sound of both violists, especially Kashkashian, with sobbing half-step motifs and microtonal bends. On the second half, the meditative, drone-dominated, but ultimately soporific Contemplation by Korean-born Isang Yun (1917-1995) was complemented by a piece with rock-influenced rhythmic verve (and not much else), Scenes from the Domestic for Viola Duo (2006) by Adam Michael Ackerman (b. 1982), a graduate student at New England Conservatory.

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.

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