Kashkashian & Levin Recital – 26 October

Trio Sonata in C, BWV529
Viola Sonata
Four Duos
Sonata in A (from violin)

Kim Kashkashian (viola) &
Robert Levin (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 26 October, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

With numerous soloists now enjoying an international reputation, the viola can hardly be thought of as the ’Cinderella’ of string instruments these days, and Kim Kashkashian’s recital demonstrated the wide-ranging repertoire it now enjoys.

Bach’s Trio Sonatas are among the most mellifluous and approachable of his instrumental works. This transcription for viola and piano (left hand taking the part for pedals) captured the rhythmic vibrancy of the outer movements and direct melodic charm of the central ’Largo’, with a fractional loss in evenness of articulation the only drawback compared to the organ original.

Among the select number of sonatas that violists had, until recently, to draw upon, that by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) ranks high. Written in 1919 it brings harmonic sophistication and melodic eloquence to bear on a skilfully modified four-movement form. The rhapsodic, but never diffuse, opening ’Impetuoso’ is effectively countered by the taut ’Vivace’ that follows; then an improvisatory ’Adagio’ of cumulative intensity leads naturally into the ’Agitato’, which draws the main themes of the work to a decisive conclusion. Kashkashian gave her all in a performance of strongly-drawn contrasts, ably partnered by Robert Levin – clearly as at home in this music as he is a forte-pianist in the Classical sphere.

Notable in Kashkashian’s career has been her commitment to contemporary music. Although not a commission, the pithy Four Duos (1979) by Betsy Jolas – each depicting a feminine trait in thoughtful and intriguing terms – are a wonderful test of characterisation as well as technique. Engaging and uninhibited expression from a senior French composer whose neglect in this country is our loss.

A staple of the violin repertoire, Franck’s A major sonata has never sounded entirely at home in transcriptions for flute or cello, but that for viola is another matter. With virtually no transposition needed, its brooding passion is arguably better conveyed by the viola’s huskier timbre – without viola and piano becoming so closely enmeshed that the many thematic transformations lose their immediacy. Deft and incisive by turns, it concluded the recital in commanding fashion – though Kashkashian offered ’Nana’ from Falla’s Canciones polulares españolas as an apposite and touching encore.

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