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Yuri Bashmet Returns with Transcendent Transcriptions

Reminiscences: Works by Marais, Benda, Brahms, Stravinksky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Satie, Rameau. Yuri Bashmet, viola; Mikhail Muntian, piano. (ONYX).

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On this fabulous recording, the playing's the thing. The title refers to Bashmet's long association with these pieces, and they effectively display his virtuosity and mastery of many styles. His technique is fabulous. His tone is beautiful and flawlessly pure, with a dark glow in the low register and a bright radiance on top. Using often extreme dynamic contrasts and turning his vibrato on and off, he can change from high-voltage intensity to an eerily glassy transparency.

All the pieces recorded here are transcriptions (violists being notorious poachers), but they lend themselves well to the sound of the viola. Most are familiar and, ranging from the 17th to the 20th century and through many national idioms, are varied and interesting enough to transcend their basic insubstantiality.

The program includes two dance suites by the great bass violist Marin Marais, assembled from his Books of Viol Pieces. Bashmet makes no attempt to sound Baroque, playing with full tone and vibrato, but he brings out the melancholy of the slow dances and the sprightliness of the fast ones. Brahms' scherzo from the FAE Sonata—a collaboration by Schumann, his student Albert Dietrich, and Brahms as a gift for Joachim—is very fast and dramatic. The trio is much slower and quite sentimental. Retaining the original violin key, it is full of octave jumps and stratospheric passages.

Brahms' famous Lullaby has a lovely simplicity. Bashmet plays the first verse in the low register, the second an octave higher.

Dushkin's arrangement of Stravinsky's "Chanson Russe" has an unearthly sound until the full-blooded climax.

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