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Garth Knox – Amore
Garth KNOX (b.1956)

Malor me bat (2004) [9:16]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1685)

Les Folies d’Espagne (1685) (arr. Garth KNOX, Agnès VESTERMAN) [10:35]
Roland MOSER (b.1943)

Manners of Speaking (2006):
Poem [3:49]
Anecdote [2:45]
Tobias HUME (c.1569-1645)

A Pavin (1605) (arr. Garth Knox) [6:45]
Attilio ARIOSTI (1666-1729)

Prima Lezione (1720):
Allegro [4:16]
Largo [4:12]
Andante [2:09]
Anonymous

Celtic Dance (arr. Garth Knox) [1:36]
I Once Loved a Lass/ Jig (arr Garth Knox) [2:35]
Klaus HUBER (b.1924)

... Plainte ... pour Luigi Nono (1990) [5:15]
Garth Knox (viola d’amore), Agnès Vesterman (cello)
rec. September 2006, Propstei St. Gerold, Austria
ECM 1925 - 4766369 [54:06]
Experience Classicsonline

Attilio Arisoti is one of those composers who always seem, for all their success, to exist on the fringes, to be outsiders. He was born in Bologna, into an illegitimate line of an aristocratic family. He took holy orders, becoming a monk at the end of the 1680s (and was henceforth often known as Frate Ottavio); but he soon left the monastery and led the life of an itinerant musician, as composer, organist and harpsichordist, cellist and player of the viola d’amore, combining this with the occasional diplomatic mission or spying venture; he spent time in, amongst other places, Mantua, Venice, Berlin, Vienna and London. He was often involved in controversy and scandal; at least one ex-patron recommended to the pope that Ariosti should be expelled from the Servite Order which he had joined in his youth. He died in some poverty and with a reputation for minor financial fraud and for shameless begging from his friends. Though he wrote successful operas, oratorios, cantatas and music in a number of other genres, it has always struck me as apt that as a composer such a liminal figure, a man who made intermittent appearances here and there without ever achieving a really stable position or residence, should be particularly associated with the viola d’amore, to the repertoire of which instrument he made an important contribution. It is apt because, as Paul Griffiths observes in his notes to this excellent CD, the viola d’amore is an instrument which has never really established a stable position in the western tradition, an instrument which "comes from outside the common routes and enclosures". As Griffiths suggests, "A few Bach pieces require it; there are guest appearances in Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots) and Janáĉek (Katya Kabanova); but it has no continuing history, comes always as a visitor. As a bowed instrument with sympathetic strings – strings not played but resonating in sympathy with those that are – it has no companions except in rather distant cultures: the sarangi of India, the Hardanger fiddle of Norwegian folk music".

One of Ariosti’s ‘Lessons’ is at the heart of this fascinating programme, played with immense panache and feeling by Garth Knox, former viola player of the Arditti quartet. It’s a marvellous piece, the sfumato sound of the resonating strings heard to beautiful effect. The slow sarabande movement is an absolute delight. I have heard other recordings of Ariosti’s viola d’amore music but this performance has a sheer musicality and punch that I haven’t previously encountered. Nor have I ever heard a more exciting version of Marais’ Les Folies d’Espagne, arranged as a duet for cello – played by the brilliant Agnes Westerman – and viola d’amore. There is a timbral variety and rhythmic drive, a quasi-improvisational quality, that is exhilarating and intoxicating.

Tobias Hume’s pavane actually sounds better in this arrangement than it does in the original for viola da gamba! The distinctive sound of the viola d’amore has a special magic which makes Hume’s competent piece into something very beautiful. The instrument’s affinity with folk instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle is exploited in Knox’s arrangements of Irish and Scottish tunes and what Knox describes as a "fictitious" jig; these tunes, writes Knox, "found their way out of my fingers before I’d even really thought about them, childhood memories mixing with musical exploration". The sense of spontaneity is evident. As, indeed, it is elsewhere on this disc. Both Knox and Westerman have extensive experience as improvising musicians. Knox has worked, for example, with Steve Lacy and George Lewis, while Westerman’s CV includes work with Vincent Courtois and Ernst Reijseger. This experience seems to inform much of the playing heard here.

Of the modern compositions heard here – has anybody published a study of the range of modern music written for early instruments? – Klaus Huber’s piece, an elegy for Luigi Nono, requires that three of the instrument’s strings be tuned in thirds, and the resulting piece is a poignant tribute, its silences as eloquent as its fragments of melody (in a way reminiscent of Nono’s late music). Roland Moser’s two pieces also require some retuning of the instrument and make an effectively contrasting pair, the eloquence and rhetoric of ‘Poem’ succeeded by the gruff insistence of ‘Anecdote’. Knox’s own version of the song ‘Malor me bat’ – a Flemish song sometimes attributed to Ockeghem (Obrecht and Josquin de Prez wrote masses based on the song) but now more often attributed to Johannes Martini or Albertijne Malcourt – is wonderful and startling. After an opening cadenza for the viola d’amore Knox and Westerman embark on a fiercely inventive exploration of the tune and its possibilities in which it is impossible with any certainty to distinguish between what is written and what is improvised; more than anywhere else on the disc the intuitive interplay of Knox and Westerman is evident here. This is a piece which transcends all cosy divisions between ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’; in a sense it is a powerful manifesto for everything that follows on this highly individual disc.

There are a number of accomplished modern players of the viola d’amore, such as Marianne Ronez, Thomas Georgi and Christoph Angerer, to name but three; yet much as I have enjoyed their work, I have never previously heard the instrument deployed with the inventiveness and flair that characterises this album. The work of Knox and Westerman is well served by a beautiful recorded sound.

Glyn Pursglove

 


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