Lachrymae was my second exposure to the brilliance of violist Kim Kashkashian, after her ECM recording of Paul Hindemith’s viola sonatas. It has long been one of my favorites of hers, as its emotional and tonal complexities are high points of the New Series catalog. The program here is modest—consisting of only three pieces—but heavy. The opening strains of Hindemith’s Trauermusik paint a grave and darkening picture. Composed in a six-hour stretch of creative fervor in the afternoon following the death of King George V in 1936, the piece mourns the fall of the monarchical figurehead by describing a musical effigy in his place. Hindemith gave the premier performance that very evening in a special BBC live broadcast. And indeed, the music has that very quality: a lost message somehow regained and spread across the airwaves in a time of great sorrow.
The album’s title work comes from Benjamin Britten and is performed here in its glorious 1975 orchestrated version (for the earlier viola/piano version, check out Kashkashian’s Elegies, also on ECM). Britten has subtitled the work “Reflections on a Song of John Dowland,” thereby lending it a rather bold intertextual potency. And while it goes without saying that Kashkashian’s soloing is first rate here, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra casts an even more enchanting spell as it binds each motivic cell with fluid grace.
Which brings us to Krzysztof Penderecki’s Konzert für Viola und Kammerorchester. The result of a 1983 commission from the Venezuelan government in honor of freedom fighter Simón Bolívar, the concerto marks a distinct shift in the composer’s aesthetic of virtuosity. Much in contrast to the density of his earlier concertos, here Penderecki cultivates a more intimate sound palette. Yet none of the color his work is known for is lost. We still get a meticulously constructed object adorned with all manner of timbres and percussive details.
In my opinion, Lachrymae showcases some of the most powerful music written for the viola. And who better than Kashkashian to wring out every last tear from this trio of captivating scores? This music is wrought in sadness and refined through a nurturing touch from its composers and musicians alike. It is not the spirit made manifest, but the manifest made spirit. (ECM Reviews)