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Kim Kashkashian takes the full latitude in her new Bach Solo Suites / stereophile

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Little is known of the origins of the Solo Suites, usually performed on the cello. No manuscript in Bach's hand survives, and in the copy produced by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, markings for slurs, articulation, and dynamics are sparse even by baroque standards. The suites may actually have been composed for the violoncello da spalla, an instrument smaller than the cello but larger than the viola, and played while held on the shoulder (some modern players use a neckstrap). But what are problems for the musicologist present a world of latitude to the interpreter, in this case master violist Kim Kashkashian, who takes full advantage of them.

This is because Kashkashian's large-hearted Bach is immensely and equally accessible to ears and mind and heart. Through realities of physics and acoustics, the viola is notoriously difficult to make "speak" or resound as loudly or as ringingly as a violin or cello. This does not seem to apply to Kashkashian or her instruments: Her tone is big, bold, deep, rich, and dark without being muffled in any way. Her viola is closely but not claustrophobically miked, and the acoustic is satisfyingly if anonymously resonant in classic ECM style-but the bigness of sound so perfectly complements the expansiveness of musical vision that it's hard to believe it's not almost entirely the work of the player herself. As I listen in the nearfield, about 6' from my Vandersteen 2Ci speakers, Kashkashian seems to simultaneously stand about 15' away in a small church (actually, a 730-seat Manhattan auditorium), and close enough that I feel I can see how closely she's trimmed her nails. I didn't know the viola could sound like this. I hadn't known my system could sound this good. Perhaps, unless I play this recording, it can't.