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Michael KIMBER (b.1945)
Music for Viola – Volume 5
Ten short pieces [20:42]
Six Étude-Caprices [9:11]
Sonata for solo viola [10:50]
Dark woods for viola and marimba [13:42]
Lullaby for Maksymilian [1:36]
Marcin Murawski (viola)
Alicja Guściora (viola)
Martyna Kowzan (viola)
Eugeniusz Dąbrowski (viola)
Pawel Michałowski (viola)
Pawel Rys (marimba)
World premiere recordings
rec. Aula Nova, I.J. Paderewski Academy of Music, Poznań, Poland, November 2014/February 2015

This is a disc that proves two things at least, firstly that Michael Kimber writes extremely tuneful music and secondly that while the viola is still underrated as an instrument it produces the most gorgeous sounds. That said Michael Kimber is not one of those contemporary composers who believe that music must always sound challenging because it is written now and as a result several of these compositions could have been written a century ago. Some critics would no doubt look down their noses at music composed contemporaneously that sounded as if it had been composed in the early years of the twentieth century or before though I don’t understand why that should be. I recently reviewed another disc of music written this century that sounded as if it had been written in the last and in it I said it was the kind of music I would compose if I could. Fortunately tunes are back in fashion and not looked down upon in that emperor’s new clothes are the best way that some in the music establishment pursued at one time 70 years ago.

In a way these mostly solo viola works by Michael Kimber are perhaps best appreciated by fellow violists who understand the secrets that can be unlocked by this singular instrument as well as its complexities but for those of us who cannot know those aspects there is much to enjoy. First up are Kimber’s Ten Short Pieces which sound for all the world like something from the 18th century and which, as all the pieces do, remind us just how richly melodious the viola can sound with its mellow tone that those who often find the violin too ‘screechy’ for their tastes will find just right for them. These particular short pieces are the most complex to play out of the works on the disc and as such are played on it by teacher Marcin Murawski who is Professor at the same Academy of Music in Poznań, named after the great composer President of Poland Ignacy Jan Paderewski, which he also attended. In fact he explains in the booklet notes these pieces are meant to test the ability to play in the high fifth position and which he has extended in places to push himself even more.

The responsibility for playing the rest of the works on the disc Murawski delegated to four of his students who rise to the challenge admirably. Two of them, Alicja Guściora and Martyna Kowzan, are tasked with playing Kimber’s Six Étude-Caprices which test ability as well as allowing for expression that these two young players, manage to find in spades. Surely listening to these even the harshest critic of the viola’s status in the instrument spectrum cannot fail to be won over by its inherent charms.

Michael Kimber’s Sonata for solo viola is the most overtly contemporary work on the disc and which is imbued with a depth of poignancy which makes it extremely attractive and which the young Ukrainian Eugeniusz Dąbrowski brings out superbly. The final work here is for the unusual combination of viola and marimba though it’s one that works incredibly well with the lush tones of the marimba woven around the contrastingly ‘sharper’ sound of the viola. This is another composition that is firmly rooted in the 21st century rather than harking back to an earlier age. Played by Pawel Michałowski, another Ukrainian violist (from the same town as Dąbrowski) and Belarusian marimba player Pawel Rys it is highly enjoyable. It is apparently common with all the discs in the series of works by Kimber that there is a bonus track and this time it falls to Rys to play the tiny minute and a half Lullaby for Maksymilian written for Marcin Murawski’s nephew’s birthday, a charming take on Hush-a-bye Baby.

It is a disc that the players will forever remember fondly as forming part of their musical education and will be readily received by viola lovers everywhere and hopefully will help convert more who are yet to discover the obvious charms and richly rewarding sounds of this unjustly regarded Cinderella instrument.

Steve Arloff



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