“Kashkashian plays with rhythmic life over a wide dynamic and coloristic range; her wonderful bow arm can communicate infinitely subtle or boldly declamatory nuances of speech and song...Levin, celebrated for his Mozart, is equally assured in French music and, it turns out, in Spanish, summoning a full spectrum of attack, articulation, color and volume. His collaboration with Kashkashian was vigorously interactive... They seemed to have been phrasing to and playing off the unheard words. Whether they were playing about souls gathering at the river, lullabies, moonlight, love or hate, greeting or farewell, they put us in the middle of the situation and the atmosphere.” - Richard Dyer, concert review in the Boston Globe
“Songs are the most potent of all cures”, writes Kim Kashkashian in her notes for this remarkable album, recalling her own introduction to music via the folk songs her father sang. This early exposure instilled in her an enduring fascination with song and, subsequently, with the challenge of bringing a string instrument to express some of the “melodic and emotional information that a voice imbues.” Her musical journey since then has made her an important advocate for the most diverse expressions of modern and contemporary music – from Hindemith to Kurtág, from Eötvös to Mansurian, but the love of song has never left her: “When I look back at my work, and when I imagine future forms for that work, the one certainty is song.“
On “Voci”, Kashkashian’s viola sang Luciano Berio’s inspired adaptation of Sicilian folk song. On “Ulysses Gaze” the folk-tinged melodies of Eleni Kariandrou. On “Hayren”, alongside leading Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian she explored her own folk heritage, through the songs handed down by Komitas. Now the subject at hand is the alluring and richly expressive song tradition of Spain and Argentina.
“Asturiana” includes compositions of De Falla, Granados, Guastavino, Ginastera, Monstsalvatge and Buchardo. Almost all are pieces rooted in folk materials and regional dance styles. All were written originally to be sung, with words from the oral tradition or from local poets. Transcriptions of many of these pieces for viola and piano were developed by Kashkashian and long-time musical partner Robert Levin over a period of “several years of performing. They introduce numerous alterations and expansions to the original vocal lines, including changes of register, additional music for the viola, and a host of declamatory devices including the use of multiple stops and pizzicato”. Experimentation is at the service of the songs’ moods and meanings, their range of temperament. As Robert Levin says, these are pieces “unabashedly flamboyant, sensual, violent, tender, passionate, and reflective in turn.”
Manuel de Falla’s “Siete Canciones populare espanolas” have long been part of Kashkashian/Levin’s recital repertoire, and “Asturiana”, the album, is named for the third of the seven de Falla songs. As with Guastavino’s “La rosa y el sauce” and Alberto Ginastera’s “Triste”, “Asturia” itself appears twice in the course of the CD. The musicians and producer Manfred Eicher have made of the programme a larger form with a dramaturgical flow that gives a sense of Spanish and Argentinean song unfolding as a continuous process. A process that can accommodate such strikingly individual composers as Guastavino (1912-2000) and Montsalvatge (1912-2002). For they, too, as Levin notes, “understand the power not only of the flamboyant, but also of understatement. Montsalvatge has been compared with fellow Catalan Mompou in his taste for combining simple melodic material with sophisticated harmony. His songs of the 1940s are Cuban influenced in both rhythm and subject matter.
Guastivino’s works of the same period show a reverence for the people, flora and fauna of Argentina .“La Rosa y el sauce” and “Se equivvocó la poloma”, his best-known and best loved pieces are characteristic.
“Triste” belongs to Ginastera’s Op. 10, “Cinco canciones populares argentinas”, a set of five songs for voice and piano, written in 1943. This yearning paean of unrequited love is not merely sorrowful: the ‘triste’ was also a 19th century song type of loose form – Ginastera brings to it a sense of improvisational freedom which has been likened to “the sound of the gauchos strumming their guitars in the wilderness”
The four songs by Enrique Granados are drawn from a collection of twelve Tonadillas, “in the ancient style”(written in 1911/12),the characters in the song inspired, liner note author David Grayson says, by the art of Goya.
Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin have been playing together since the mid 1970s. Their debut ECM release was “Elegies” recorded in 1984, with music of Britten, Vaughan Williams, Carter, Glasunow, Liszt, Kodály and Vieuxtemps. This was soon followed by the Sonatas for Viola/Piano - and for Solo Viola - of Hindemith. In 1990 they recorded Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano op 147 for the New Series, in 1996 the Brahms viola sonatas in a recording that won the Edison Award.
Kim Kashkashian’s international career was given impetus by her early success at the Munich ARD competition. From the outset she was much in demand as a chamber musician and as a guest at festivals including Marlboro, Spoleto, Mostly Mozart, Lockenhaus und Salzburg. Previously a music professor in Freiburg and at the Hanns Eisler Academy in Berlin, she teaches today at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Robert Levin is renowned for his restoration of the classical period practise of improvised embellishments and cadenzas, and his many recordings include Mozart piano concertos with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, and Beethoven concertos with John Eliot Gardiner und the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Alongside his concert activities Levin is also a noted theorist and Mozart scholar. His completion of the Mozart Mass in C Minor was premiered in Carnegie Hall in January 2005. Robert Levin is a professor of humanities at Harvard University, and was recently appointed artistic director of the Sarasota Music Festival.
CD booklet includes performers notes by Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin in English and German, plus song texts in English translation and a liner note by David Grayson