Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Different Kind of Fiddle

So I know you all have been counting the days until the new Ryan Adams disc comes out hours until I finally put up that post on the viola d’amore before I got distracted by AC/DC. Well, wait no more.

All kidding aside, today we feature a really fine new album, D'Amore, by Garth Knox. The title refers not to "love" (although perhaps you may hear that here) but rather to the varied set of pieces on this disc that are played on the viola d’amore. So first things, first, what is a viola d’amore? The short answer is that it is a viola with an extra set of sympathetic strings that are not played, but rather resonate when the main strings are played. According to the Viola d’amore Society of America (yup, there is one):

The majority of violas d'amore have fourteen strings -- seven playing strings and seven additional resonating or sympathetic strings that go through the bridge and between the fingerboard and neck of the instrument, held by individual pegs in the elongated pegbox. The sympathetic strings are most often tuned to the same pitches as the playing strings. Instruments exist with different combinations of playing strings (four, five, six, and seven) and sympathetic strings (from four up to fourteen).
Knox plays the standard seven-six string v. d’amore on this outing and is ably accompanied by Agnes Vesterman on cello on the majority of the pieces which range from 17th century baroque to traditional Celtic songs to more modern compositions including one by Knox himself. There are certainly differences among these pieces as he moves from period to period and genre to genre, but the arrangements and pacing and the deepness of the playing both by Knox and Vesterman hold the whole set together.
The fullness of these pieces is amazing given that there are only two instruments and I hope that readers who are more oriented to other genres (especially you all who love to hear violins in other settings such as country and alt-country) will give these a listen. As the reviewer over at Gramophone notes, "this is quite simply one of the most outstandingly magical discs I have heard." True, true.

Prima Lezione (the Adante movement)

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