Kim Kashkashian/Robert Levin: Asturiana (ECM New Series 1975)

 

Asturiana: Songs from Spain and Argentina

Kim Kashkashian viola
Robert Levin piano
Recorded August 2006, Radio Studio DRS, Zürich
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As it opened, the rose embraced the willow.
The tree loved the rose so passionately!
But a coquettish youth has stolen the rose.
And the disconsolate willow weeps for it. Ah!

What can we know of a text when its words are taken away from us? Is it forever lost, or does its ghost still linger? Do we simply replace it with another, or do we revive it in another form? In an expansive and carefully thought out program of Spanish and Argentinean folk songs adapted by a handful of famous and not-so-famous composers and arranged here for viola and piano, the subject of this review provides a simple answer to these questions: all of the above and more. The songs on Asturiana may be without words, but they want for nothing in communicative power. The booklet contains English translations of every song being rendered, if not sung, through Kim Kashkashian’s flawless touch and Robert Levin’s colorful accompaniment, thereby allowing us direct access to each melody’s interior life.

The title of Asturiana comes from its opening song, set by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) as part of his Siete canciones populares españolas, and is probably the most well-known melody among the album’s twenty-three. This is also the first of three songs that appear twice, each time in a differently nuanced performance—the others being the whimsical “La rosa y el sauce” by Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) epigraphed above, and heartbreaking “Triste” by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) from the fellow Argentinean composer’s Cinco canciones populares argentinas. The latter tells of a shunted lover who has only the shaded pool where he once gave his heart, and which now only reflects the face of a dejected man. Four songs by Enrique Granados (1867-1916) dramatize the loves of majos and majas, denizens of Spain’s lower class. From Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) we get four of the Cinco canciones negras, which look beyond the composer’s Catalonian roots to the West Indies for their inspiration. Avid Mompou listeners will find much to admire in Montsalvatge’s melodic density and personal flair. Then comes the full cycle of de Falla’s Siete canciones, where the title track makes its cameo. Of these, “Jota” is the most exuberant and brims with the blissful naivety of young love, while Kashkashian’s rendition of “Nana” touches the heart as tenderly as any singer ever could (having sung some of these pieces in concert with classical guitarist Joseph Ricker, I can personally attest to this statement). After de Falla’s masterful arrangements, Ginastera’s “Triste” is reprised, followed by a selection of songs by Guastavino. These are the most poetic of the verses represented here, carried along by an almost mystical interest in naturalism and magic. The two final songs by Carlos López Buchardo (1981-1948) speak of deep communication and love’s self-destruction in the same breath.

These timeless, and timely, melodies come to life in Kashkashian’s utterly capable hands. As such, they become more than adaptations, but journeys into the heart of song. Kashkashian’s viola resonates like a deeply exhaling lung, and leaves us just as breathless. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, then her musicianship is the straightest line one could possibly drawn between the listener and the music contained on this superlative CD. May she never stop singing.

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