• Chilean Viola Music


    Mobili: Music for Viola and Piano from Chile
    Georgina Isabel Rossi, viola.  Silvie Cheng, piano.
    New Focus FCR268
    Total Time:  69:02
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Mobili takes its title from a significant work by Juan Orrego-Salas (1919-2019) that anchors this collection of music for viola by Chilean composers.  Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi’s program is a blend of works from the 1960s and the 21st Century exploring work by six composers.  Rossi is a Chilean-born performer who has performed throughout the Americas and is currently a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.  She is joined here by Silvie Cheng who is known for her championing of new music and has recorded with her brother on the audite label.

    The program is organized with the opening five works being shorter pieces and the larger multi-movement work serving as the conclusion with a brief encore-like piece to wrap things off.  Two pieces by Rafael Diaz (b.1962) open the album.  The first of these, Habra alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (2009), is for amplified viola and uses a prayer-like folk melody from the Andes’ indigenous Pewenche people.  The arc of the piece is related to the “sonorities” of prayer and opens with a ascending cry that will shift to a more lyrical, contemplative section.  The outlines of the viola line suggest landscapes and there are musical gestures to also indicate bird calls.  The Chilean landscape also informs Diaz’s In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges (2013).  The composer’s ethnomusicological exploration of indigenous music is also present in this work.

    The earliest work on the album is Carlos Botto’s (1923-2004) Fantaisie, Op, 15 (1962).  His work is among those combining modernist tendencies and references to more traditional forms and genres, of which this work is a fine example.  The open piano harmonies provide a careful underpinning of the almost romantic-like emotion of the solo line that moves into more intense segments as the motives of the piece are unpacked and explored in the work which has an excellent dramatic engagement whose episodic nature allows for a variety of challenges to overcome.  Federico Heinlein (1912-1999) counts among his teachers Nadia Boulanger.  His output focuses on poetic settings with the instrumental works often referencing poetry.  That is the case for his Duo “Do Not Go Gentle” (1985) which takes inspiration from a Dylan Thomas poem.  There are some really beautiful, folk-like romantic lines that provide a warm, emotional core to this music.   Tololo (2011) wraps up this first part of the program.  Originally for viola and string orchestra, this David Cortes (b. 1985) work takes its inspiration from the home of an important observatory on Mount Tololo.  The music follows the imagination of seeing through a telescope with its ability to see far and zoom in for new detail.

    Mobili, Op. 63 is a four-movement work by Orrego-Salas (1967).  The first movement has a sparse piano accompaniment and focuses on a long, lyrical line that grows slowly upward.  The piano tends to provide signposts and will then revisit the material from the solo line, expanding the harmonic tension.  “Discontinuo” is a contrasting movement of jagged and angular writing.  Interaction between the soloist becomes heightened here adding to a sense of unease that keeps things on edge.  In “Ricorrente”, seems to blend a seeking out and have a veiled reference to ricercare, with its somewhat staggered commentary between the soloist and piano.  The motivic idea introduced is expanded and explored between the two which sometimes come together.  The longest movement of the four, it seems to also hold a stronger emotional core which is mined well here by Rossi.  Things are wrapped up with a brilliant “Perpetuo” movement to provide more technical and virtuosic challenges.

    As a bonus track, the program concludes with a transcription of the song El Sampredrino (1968) by the composer often called the Argentinean Schubert, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000).  His music fits into the more folk-inspired styles (a la Ginastera) with nods to the post-romantics.  It makes for a touching conclusion.

    While the music here tends toward more modernist contemporary qualities, the expressiveness of these pieces is captured beautifully by Rossi who navigates these moments of lyricism with beautiful playing.  Her articulation for the rapid passage moments also works to aid the dramatic contrasts of the pieces on this program.  The careful placement of these works also gradually expands the tonal palette so that the ear adjusts to the open, modern harmonies.  When the music introduces a more romantic-tinged line, they stand out in stunning contrast to the quartal/quintal harmonic piano accompaniment which is handled equally well by Cheng.  Perhaps it is the warm tone of the viola which also makes this album further inviting and certainly worth a look for those interested in expanding their musical world.  Sound quality is excellent with a perfect balance of soloist and piano, both imaged well in the sonic picture.  The piano has a nice warm quality with just enough ambience to warm things up and keep them from being to dry.  This is due as much to the excellent performances that are captured in this fine release.

  • Contemporary Violin Duos with andPlay


    Maya Bennardo, violin. Hannah Levinson, viola.
    New Focus Recordings fcr233
    Total Time:  48:04
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Two former Oberlin Conservatory musicians come together to explore four very recent works for violin and viola from the over 25 pieces they have commissioned to date.  The combination of ranges for these two instruments informs each of the works recorded here.  For the most part, these are highly experimental works focusing on seemingly random sounds and effects.  The harshness of the pieces may put off some who prefer some tonal reference in their modern music.

    First up is Crescita Plastica (2015) by Ashkan Behzadi gives us an immediate introduction to the sheer virtuosity of Bennardo and Levinson.  The piece feature some rather stark and intense musical gestures that zip through the upper registers of the instruments as often violent attacks insert themselves into the musical argument.  Contemporary effects that explore double stopping, ponticello, and even microtones are also on display.

    David Bird’s Bezier (2013) continues this expansion of effects and sounds possible on the instruments with a variety of percussive effects exploring other means of sound creation.  The piece morphs into an exploration of trills and chirp-like sounds.  Apocrypha (2017) is one of his more recent works and will close out the album.  It adds electronic effects and sets up interactions between the acoustic sounds and the artificially-created ones.  This is a more compelling piece and might better have serves as an introduction to this avant-garde music.

    The penultimate piece is Clara Iannotta’s Luna (2011).  Here the harmonics of the violin and viola are explored along with other techniques of glissandi and ponticello  effects.  These become integral gestures that help provide a formal structure to the music.  A drone effect on a harmonica adds an additional other-worldly quality.

    These are each quite intense modern pieces not for the faint of heart.  The duo creates a real sense of intensity throughout the album.  Intonation is crucial to pieces like this and here this is attained impeccably.  The dramatic thrust of these pieces is also quite intriguing.  The sound of the album captures both instruments well and images them with just enough distance to provide some ambient support and distancing between the two.  Unfortunately, there is just a lot of resulting similarity here in a way that keeps any of these pieces from standing out fully on their own.  The concepts of the music are solid but could use some contrasting program to help them stand out more as collected here.  Fans of contemporary music in the New York area will certainly want to be on the lookout for andPlay’s local performances.