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Michael KIMBER (b.1945)
Three Armenian Impressions (2002) [10:55]
Six Caprices (from: Twelve Caprices (1996)) [13:14]
Murovisation (2013) [5:42]
Viola Fight Song (2004) [1:52]
*La Folia (1995) [5:47]
*Christmas Medley (2005) [5:24]
*Jingle Bells (2004) [2:02]
*Two Pieces in Spanish Style (2008) [3:32]
*Dancing Viola (2011) [5:35]
*I Really Love to Play Viola (2005) [4:00]
*I Am Lost without my Beautiful Viola (2005) [3:34]
Caprice in A flat (from: Twelve Caprices (1996)) [3:15]
Marcin Murawski (viola)
*Edyta Hedzielska, Justyna Kowalczyk, Aleksandra Bazan (violas II, III, IV)
rec. Paderewski Academy of Music, Poznań, Poland, 27 March and 17 April 2013.
ACTE PREALABLE AP 0284 [65:02] 

After a few early compositions American Michael Kimber spent the next two decades performing as a violist and subsequently teaching viola. He returned to writing music in 1985, much of it for his instrument. On this new release, experienced Polish violist Marcin Murawski presents a programme of two halves: the first, a selection of Kimber's solo works; the second, short pieces for the unusual combination of four violas, for which Murawski generously teams up with three of his just-graduated students.
 
Ostensibly, only the Three Armenian Impressions are to any degree substantial, a two- or three-minute running time the norm elsewhere. Their Armenian flavour may be confected, but the three short movements - 'Night Music', 'Supplication', 'Celebration' - are highly atmospheric and a worthy addition to any violist's repertory. They were dedicated, incidentally, to Armenia's most famous violist, Kim Kashkashian.
 
The remaining items are all short, light or, in the case of the Caprices, incomplete. These latter - broadly pedagogical but delightfully expressive - are devalued somewhat thereby, only seven of the twelve that make the complete cycle included. One of those is archly designated 'bonus track'. Kimber's response to those who wonder why he has composed "caprices in a nineteenth century bravura style" is a witty "Better late than never!"
 
Kimber's own account of the centuries old smash hit 'La Folia' is a collector's item. Murovisation is a heartfelt, written-out improvisation specially for Murawski, a repayment in part for the advocacy work the latter has done for Kimber over the past few years. The three Dancing Viola ditties use a pentatonic scale to suggest Asian folk music, though the middle one at least has Kimber at his most American-sounding - there are of course several traditions in the States that rely on such scales. Jingle Bells and Christmas Medley are space-fillers for sure, but at the right time of year are sure to bring cheer. Similarly, the Two Pieces in Spanish Style - one of which borrows heavily from the slow movement of Rodrigo's Aranjuez Concerto, the other imitating castanets - is a short, light-hearted work custom-made for a violist's encores. Ditto the final two tracks, which are in the style of an old-fashioned sentimental pop standard like Charlie Chaplin/Nat King Cole's 'Smile'.
 
Audio quality throughout is pretty good, although it does sound as if some artificial reverberation has been added to certain tracks - the Caprices, for example. Some of the music has been recorded up close too, but Murawski is thankfully not one of those string soloists who feel the need to take enormous gulps of breath at the start of every new phrase. The accompanying Polish-English booklet provides all the information the listener is likely to need on composer, works and performers alike. This is actually Murawski's fourth CD for Acte Préalable: previously he has recorded with his flautist sister Ewa Murawska, an engaging programme of Classical-period duos by François Devienne (AP0222). 

At any rate, he, his three ex-students and Michael Kimber himself can all be very pleased with this latest disc. The wider appeal of an all- and only-viola programme is harder to gauge, but certainly anyone with even the slackest of connections with the instrument should consider investment.  

Byzantion

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