The young violist Kim Kashkashian has been deservedly praised for a series of striking recordings on the ECM label, ranging from her definitive account of the complete Hindemith viola sonatas to a piercingly plangent recent release of Berio's Sicilian folksong-based Voci and Naturale.
Currently touring Europe accompanied by Robert Levin, she drew a surprisingly modest audience at the Wigmore Hall. Maybe a less than obvious choice of programme had something to do with it, though there was a heartening preponderance of younger listeners – doubtless viola students avid to learn a thing or two.
She began with a transcription of Bach's organ Trio Sonata BWV, which instantly established her rhythmic vitality and ability to inflect even conventional figuration with significance by minute variations of vibrato and colour. But it was in the first movement, second subject of Rebecca Clarke's fine, Frank Bridge-style Viola Sonata of 1919 that she came into her own; floating a seamless line of mahogany-dark sonority over Levin's exquisitely veiled accompaniment. Clarke was a violist herself, married to a pianist, and evidently knew exactly how the two instruments could best be combined.
The second half brought the evening's one avant-garde offering in the form of Four Duos (1979) by Betsy Jolas, Messiaen's successor at the Paris Conservatoire. Less radical than her contemporary Boulez, these unfolded as inventive mosaic-like structures of textural contrasts and jagged gestures, if a little grey in harmony.
The main work, however, proved more problematic. Cés-ar Frank's Violin Sonata in A major is often heard transposed down for cello, but would appear to work texturally less consistently well with viola. Or at least in its first two movements where, in straining to penetrate Frank's beefy piano textures, it seems even an artist as finished as Kashkashian can run into the odd patch of dubious intonation – though the musing, recitative-like figures of the third movement were lovingly done.
There was an even lovelier encore: a transcription of "Nana", the gentle lullaby, fifth of Falla's Seven Spanish Folksongs, from which the touching, faintly husky sul tasto tone of Kashkashian's fading phrases will linger in this pair of ears for a long time.
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