Garth Knox/Agnès Vesterman: D’Amore (ECM New Series 1925)


Garth Knox
Agnès Vesterman

Garth Knox viola d’amore
Agnès Vesterman violoncello
Recorded September 2006 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The name of Garth Knox’s solo ECM debut comes, of course, from the viola d’amore, a neglected instrument of which he is our greatest living proponent. Below its seven bowed strings lies a sympathetic loom, which absorbs what Knox calls “a kind of harmonically encoded souvenir.”

This luminescent album brings us straight into its unique body of twined metal, gut, and wood. And what better place to start than with Knox’s own 2004 composition, Malor me bat, of which the soulful playing and seamless execution are only part of the story. With a wide palette of sound colors at his disposal, Knox gives us a sometimes-unexpected journey, seeming to coax with harmonic arpeggios Agnès Vesterman’s cello from the depths of some enigmatic future. It is one of three modern works to appear on the program, the others being Roland Moser’s glyphic scratches in Manners of Speaking (2006) and Klaus Huber’s wonderful …Plainte… (1990), which ends the album with a meditation on (and in) negative space.

Along the way, we encounter a smattering from the early Baroque, including the somber, lilting A Pavin (1605) from Tobias Hume, Attilo Ariosti’s Prima Lezione (1720), which carves its rustic dances with a wide blade, and the immortal Les Folies d’Espagne (1685) of Marin Marais. Add to these a hefty sampling of traditional Celtic tunes, and the result is a vivacious cross-section of what the viola d’amore is capable.

On the whole, this is an adventurous disc and is sure to have something for everyone. Knox’s eclectic approach works wonders, prizing the instrument as the locus of musical activity before the bow even touches the strings. Such an approach allows us deeper insight into Knox’s own passions, that we might better attune ourselves to a wider musical world in the listening. That being said, the three modern pieces are what truly showcase the instrument’s breadth.

The favored acoustics of Propstei St. Gerold once again prove amenable to the music-making archived here, and lift every voice to sing with thrumming quality.

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