The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Garth Knox (viola d’amore) Agnès Vesterman (cello)
Composer: Garth Knox, Marais, Roland Moser, Hume, Ariosti & Klaus Huber

Viola player Garth Knox is a veteran of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Arditti Quartet. He has made a name for himself as a passionate advocate of contemporary music, which he performs with an almost missionary fervour, managing to make it palatable for even the most conservative listeners. In his latest recording, however, Knox seems to be proselytising for the instrument as much as for the music, kissing the seductive sounds of the viola d’amore awake with music ranging from the 17th to the 21st centuries.
Both Tobias Hume’s A Pavin and Marin Marais’s Les folies d’Espagne were conceived for the viola da gamba, which of course is tuned similarly to the viola d’amore. Knox’s arrangements sound absolutely convincing, as does that of Attilio Ariosti’s first Lezione (originally written for scordatura violin, as a ‘lesson’ for learning to play the viola d’amore).

Knox’s own composition, Malor me bat, bridges the gap between old and new, being based upon the eponymous song attributed to Ockeghem. The piece starts with a virtuoso cadenza for the viola d’amore, and snatches of the song keep appearing in a phantasmagoric way. The chemistry between Knox and cellist Agnès Vesterman works impressively in this semi-improvised composition (her role is otherwise a rather subordinate one).

Klaus Huber’s …Plainte… and Roland Moser’s Manners of Speaking experiment with out-of-the-way tunings for both the playing and the resonating strings to fascinating effect. The recording is up to ECM’s excellent standards and even manages to catch the resonance of the sympathetic strings.   

Carlos María Solare