“The viola is commonly (with rare exceptions indeed) played by infirm violinists, or by decrepit players of wind instruments who happen to have been acquainted with a stringed instrument once upon a time.”
If ever a recording could put Wagner’s infamous statement to rest, this would be it. Simply overflowing with musical brilliance, it remains one of the finest examples of what the viola is capable of. Kim Kashkashian’s technique and passion are almost palpable and one can only marvel at the humble respect she brings to both. The viola doesn’t simply exist somewhere between violin and cello, forever doomed to be second rate to both. It is, rather, an utterly dynamic and rich musical object, and the ways in which Hindemith unravels its subtler intonations in these sonatas is nothing short of monumental. Every chapter tells us something new, until the linguistic possibilities of the music represented in this eclectic set are exhausted.
Of the many solo sonatas for various instruments composed since the time of Bach, it is Hindemith’s that most concretely capture a likeminded spirit. While Paganini’s caprices, for example, model Bach on the surface, they are essentially showstoppers meant to test the technical limits of whoever dares perform them. The solo violin works of Ysaÿe are also closely allied with Bach. Ysaÿe draws more specifically and overtly, and in doing so pushes away from Bach in the process. By contrast, Hindemith chose colors from his own palette. In the same way that Bach revitalized the violin and the cello, Hindemith forged a space for the viola. I hear no evidence in these sonatas to suggest that Hindemith was in any way attempting an imitation. He was, rather, exploring his own territory with unbridled honesty. Thankfully, Kashkashian has given us this landmark performance to enjoy to our hearts’ content. Her playing is by turns robust and delicate, her tone impeccable, her technique assured and minimally adorned.
It has been said that, as a performer, one develops a certain appreciation for a given piece of music that the listener can never access, for the performer learns a piece from the inside out. What separates Kashkashian from the rest is her willingness to let the listener in on the performer’s appreciation, and on the different levels of which such an engagement is comprised. We feel every detail as we would feel our own. (ECM Reviews)