Kim Kashkashian has done a great deal to expand the repertoire for the viola. Her latest recording for the ECM imprint, Neharót, brings together a range of compositions by living composers. Although disparate stylistically, what they have in common is, from the listener’s standpoint, most fortunate: all of them feature sumptuous writing that plays to the strengths of this talented violist.
Neharót Neharót, for viola solo, accordion, percussion, double string orchestra, and taped voices, was written by Israeli composer Betty Olivero in 2006-7, and is in some way a response to that time period’s violence between her homeland and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The tape’s mourning cries and harmonically dense swaths of accordion and strings provide sonic halos that surround the soulfully keening viola solo. Conductor Alexander Libriech leads the Münchener Kammerorchester in a balanced, sumptuous reading of this touching score.
Music composed and arranged by Tigran Mansurian features prominently on the disc. The evocative Tagh for the Death of the Lord, for Kashkashian and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, juxtaposes a folk-inflected viola part, featuring retuned scales, set against gongs from Thailand and a tersely chimed vibraphone. Mansurian plays a piano arrangement of Komitas’ Oror, a simply rendered yet beguiling lullaby. The main event in this grouping of Armenian concert music is Mansurian’s Three Arias (Sung out the Window facing Mount Ararat). Here Kashkashian collaborates with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, led by Gil Rose. It is a felicitous pairing. The violist’s darkly passionate cadenzas are met with equally intense passages from the orchestra, featuring clangorous percussion and brilliantly articulate brass writing. Set against these tangy elements are considerably more lustrous sections for strings and winds. This timbral duality is matched by a similar blending of disparate compositional materials. Mansurian’s language recalls modern Eastern European composers such as Bartók and Komitas, as well as the folk material they relied upon as touchstones. But the piece also features a post-Romantic sweep that serves as a poignant foil.
The recording closes with Rava Deravin, a piece for viola and string quartet written by Israeli composer Eitan Steinberg. Originally written for voice and chamber ensemble, the piece is based on a Hasidic melody for a poem by kabbalist Rabbi Yitzak Lurya. Kashkashian’s performance certainly emulates the lilt and inflections of a vocal performance, reflecting the intonations of the source material with vibrant portamento and, where required, subtle microtonal pirouettes. The Kuss Quartet parries her bold gestures alternately with wasp-like rejoinders and glassine verticals. The result is a piquant yet moving work.
On Neharót, Kim Kashkashian has selected composers who may not be household names, particularly here in the United States. But she makes a persuasive case for each of them. It’s likely that most listeners will leave the recording wanting to hear more, both from this talented violist and the composers she’s championed.