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The Lyrical Quality of Violist Kim Kashkashian

Although Kim Kashkashian is a world-famous violist, the first word that comes to my mind when I hear her name is not "viola," but "lyricism" — that quality of music to be songlike, and to flow easily with emotion. Kashkashian's ability to make her instrument sing is the wellspring of her new CD, Asturiana.

The word "lyricism" also shares some meaning with the word "lyric," which hints at how songs tell a story. The words are important to Kashkashian, and you can hear how they underlie her interpretations by following each lyric in the liner notes. The title track is a song from the Spanish province of Asturia. The words, in part, read: "Seeking consolation / I drew near a green pine tree / Seeing me weep, it wept."

More than most classical traditions, Spain's is deeply connected to its folk and popular music. Flamenco is one of these styles, and in "Asturia" by Manual De Falla, the piano imitates a guitar, and the viola a gypsy singer.

Kashkashian collaborator Robert Levin, a pianist, always has something interesting to impart to familiar repertory. As famous as this music may be, Levin emphasizes bits of melody, harmony and rhythm that have been hiding inside the piano part, which adds another level of interest to the performance. But it's the melodies that matter most. Striking in their beauty, and captivating in the emotions they impart, they will leave you singing.

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Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.
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