AMN Reviews: Kim Kashkashian – Music for Viola (ECM)

Violist Kim Kashkashian during a rehearsal in ...
Violist Kim Kashkashian during a rehearsal in Malboro, Vermont 2008 Photo: Claire Stefani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The great Armenian-American violist Kim Kashkashian – she of the richest sound, the more questing intellect, the foremost of her generation – celebrates some twenty-five years of interpreting the work of the two great Hungarian-Jewish composers, György Kurtág och György Ligeti, both exiled from their homeland.

Ligeti (b. 1923) was raised in a small community in Transylvania, isolated by local Romanian and Hungarian antisemitism, finally fleeing to Austria with the failure of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 after already surviving a Nazi forced labour camp. Kurtág, born three years later in a region currently belonging to Romania, met and befriended Ligeti at the music academy in Budapest, and also fled the Soviet invasion, landing in Paris. They were the best of friends and the greatest of opposites as composers – Kurtág the aphorist, Ligeti the musical novelist.

One need not be well acquainted with the mechanics of great viola playing nor the works of Ligeti and/or Kurtág to fully appreciate the mastery of Kashkashian. Besides, the ample liner notes by Thomas J. Krebs go into the minutiae in scholarly and anecdotal detail. Nineteen pieces by from Kurtág´s “Signs, Games and Pieces” (ongoing since 1989) are followed by six by Ligeti. Kashkashian hops back and forth chronologically, like a cubist testing perspectives, but never breaks the story line in her seamless, living, breathing and sweating narrative.

It is interesting that so many of the pieces are dedications – to people named Lázsló Dobszay, Imre Földes, Dénes Zsigmondy, Ágnes Vadas, Blum Támas, Sári Gerlóczy, Alfred Schlee, Klaus Klein. Musicians, teachers, painters, composers, authors, poets, critics – men and women of the modernist generation whose lives were also obscured and interrupted too many times by goon squads, but who prevailed and produced, nurtured and evolved its art. Perhaps this is the story of the lost Central European cultural melting pot in which they once lived, reflecting the give and take of the great modernists of the region who made it sing.

Obviously a record of the year, if not of a lifetime, for Kashkashian.

Stephen Fruitman