Saltarello

Garth Knox, viola & fiddle

with Agnès Vesterman, cello & Sylvain Lemêtre, percussion

ECM Records CD 2157

Dance music in multiple forms, from the saltarello, a Venetian dance dating back to the Fourteenth century, to  Breton and Celtic folk music, as well as transcriptions of medieval era compositions, Renaissance era consort music, and contemporary fare, are featured on Saltarello, violist Garth Knox’s latest ECM CD.  Among the early music slections, Particularly impressive is a Vivaldi concerto, performed in a duo arrangement for viola d’amore and cello. Its interpreters, Knox and Agnès Vesterman, take this continuo less opportunity to accentuate a supple contrapuntal interplay between soloist and bass line. Equally lovely is a piece that combines music by Hildegard andMachaut in a kind of medieval style mash-up. Also stirring is this duo’s version of John Dowland’s most famous piece, Lachrimae, perhaps known best in its incarnation as the song “Flow My Tears.”

Knox, who is a past member of both Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Arditti String Quartet, also performs the disc’s newer material with consummate musicality: he also has the bedeviling habit of making virtuosic writing sound far too easy to play (his poor violist colleagues!). Knox’s own composition, “Fuga Libre,” combines jazz rhythms and neo-baroque counterpoint with ever more complicated harmonic tension points and several instances in which Knox demonstrates various extended playing techniques. Meanwhile, Kaaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne, an eerily evocative and tremendously challenging piece for viola and electronics, is given a haunting, sonically sumptuous rendering.

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