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Chamber Music, Music Media Review Print



Mosaic, Viola Music Performed by Wenting Kang with Sergei Kvitko, Piano

August 30, 2022 - Durham, NC:


Mosaic, Wenting Kang, viola; Sergei Kvitko, piano; Claude Debussy (1862-1918), "Beau Soir," (1891), "Première Rhapsodie" (1909-10); Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), "Recuerdo de la Alhambra" (1899, trans. R. Ricci); Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), "Pavane pour une infante défunte" (1910) (Transcr. V. Borisovsky), "Vocalise-etude en forme de Habanera" (1907); Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) "Élégie" in C minor, Op. 24 (1880), "Papillon," Op. 77, "Berceuse," Op. 16 (1879), "Après un rêve" Op. 7, No. 1 (1878) (Transcr. P. Casals); Isaac Albéniz, "Tango" in D, Op 165, No. 2 (1890) (Transcr. M Rummel); Akira Nishimura (1953) "Fantasia on Song of the Birds" (2005); Pablo Casals (1876-1973), "El Cant dels Ocellis-Song of the Birds" (1939); Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), Siete canciones populares españolas (1914) (Transcr. E. Colon); Blue Griffin Records (BGR609), recorded at Estudio Uno, Madrid, Spain, August 2021, TT 70:52; © P 2022 Blue Griffin Recording, Inc.; $15.99 through BGR.

French and Spanish composers and musicians have long shared friendships and common interests. Wenting Kang wove this thread as she chose music for an album featuring some of the most beloved short compositions penned during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This debut solo recording project includes music transcribed from 'cello, guitar, violin, piano, and voice, and adapted for the viola mostly by the artist. The results are beautiful.

Kang has performed around the globe, playing with orchestras and chamber ensembles in addition to performing as a soloist. Born in China, Kang studied at Central Conservatory in Beijing and continued her studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston and Kronberg Academy in Germany. Her list of awards and accolades is impressive. Kang is associate principal violist of Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid in Spain and Adjunct Professor for the International viola class of Nobuko Imai at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia.

Kang's collaborator Sergei Kvitko is not only a brilliant pianist, but he is also a talented sound engineer. His contributions lift the project to a very high level. I listened for coloristic details; the surface noise from the bow, for example. She uses the bow artfully; Kvitko captures the nuance and her lush, beautiful tone. That leads me to the center of gravity of this album.

The middle two pieces are based on a Catalan folk song. One is "Fantasia on Song of the Birds" by the prolific, but lesser known Japanese composer, Akira Nishimura. A contemporary work, it is rich with texture and timbre. From the silvery sul ponticello (on the bridge) to the closing pianissimo tremolo, Kang lifts the music from the page, bringing it to life. Her performance is flawless. Paired with Pablo Casals' lovely "El Cant dels Ocells," these make a handsome duo.

Casals' transcription of "Après un rêve," written for voice and piano by the celebrated French composer Gabriel Fauré, is another elegant piece that works well for a bowed instrument. One of the most famous 'cellists of the twentieth-century, Casals is remembered for his characteristic tone. Light, with delicate tempo changes with the bow, "Papillon" provides lovely contrast. There are three more selections by Fauré, each of them belonging on the top 100 list of the period. Kang's performances are superb.

The final group is a collection of short works by Manuel de Falla, Siete canciones populares españolas. Listeners will recognize these seven little treasures, especially the tender "Nana" and carefree "Jota." They are often featured as recital encores. Kang plays them with ease and familiarity.

Not everything works on the viola. Tárrega's exquisite guitar piece "Recuerdo de la Alhambra" (transcr. R. Ricci) was composed with the unique characteristics of the guitar in mind. The bow, which is made for drawing a variety of articulations, still makes this composition sound labored. Otherwise, Kang chose pieces that seem to belong to her instrument. With a sensitive partnership, lovely program notes by the artist, and excellent sound engineering, this album stands up well to the mountain of new recordings. I look forward to following Wenting Kang's career unfold as she takes her place on the upper tier of twenty-first century performers.