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Violists have been the butt of jokes, but you won't be laughing at Matthew Lipman's 'Ascent' / STAGEANDCINEMA

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For years, violas and violists have been the butt of some truly funny jokes. But you won't be laughing at violist Matthew Lipman, although he engendered a huge grin from me because of his latest CD, a truly remarkable collection of premieres and other works for viola and piano. One listen and you'll have a greater appreciation for this ridiculously maligned instrument.

As with his turn-of-the-century U.K. contemporaries George Butterworth, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Hamish MacCunn, the enormously prolific York Bowen wrote some unabashedly romantic works. His near 15-minute Phantasy in F major Op. 54 for piano and viola (1918) opens this salon-type program. As with this new record, the Phantasy is delightful and jam-packed with sweet surprises. It also has a harmonic structuring and expression that clearly belongs to Bowen. Joined by the remarkably deft pianist Henry Kramer, Lipman's achingly bittersweet interpretation is transportive. Bowen's composing for both instruments is truly challenging yet there's never any indication from either player that it's anything but effortless, which I know it's not. The duo, playing together six years after having met as Juilliard undergrads, set us up with an eloquence which permeates the 10-track CD, now out on Çedille (say-DEE), a label based in Lipman's hometown, Chicago.

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