Asturiana Kashkashian, viola; Robert Levin, piano (ECM)
No higher compliment could be paid to Kashkashian’s playing of Spanish songs—art songs, but ones very close to their folk-song roots—than that it almost sounds as if she is singing. Or, rather, that the tone of her viola occasionally takes on the overtones of a human voice.
The common ground between folk and classical music has occupied a few of her recordings so far, in works by Tigran Mansurian and Luciano Berio, but there’s a level of emotional exposure here that’s new. She and Levin, and a musician who marries heart and intellect like few others, have very little compositional artifice to hide behind here.
Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs are the disc’s meaty core, and Kashkashian’s earthy low register proves perfect for expressing the dusty concerns of the lyrics. “Asturiana,” the cycle’s third song, appears twice on the album, the first time serving as a sort of preface to the entire disc, the second time in its place in the song cycle.
Throughout, Levin’s accompanying is unfailingly sensitive. His deep intellectual investment allows him to go as deep into the music as Kashkashian does.—Marc Geelhoed
The disc is available September 18.