Georgina Isabel Rossi: Mobili: Music for Viola and Piano from Chile

About

Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng release Mobili, an overview of Chilean repertoire featuring viola. Compiling six works by five composers, including five world-premiere recordings, the recording highlights the rich tapestry of influences that have shaped Chilean concert music, from European high modernism to Indigenous music of the Andean region.

Audio

Violist Georgina Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng’s Mobili chronicles five decades of Chilean music for viola, reflecting a dichotomy of influences from Indigenous sources and cosmopolitan aesthetics grounded in mid-century European modernist sensibilities. The collection is given added weight by the passing of Juan Orrego-Salas, the composer of the title work, sixteen days prior to the first recording session. Rossi and Cheng have dedicated the album to his memory, a fitting homage to a man who was a lifelong ambassador for Chilean music in the United States.

Rafael Díaz’ ¿Habrá alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling?) opens the program and is its only work for solo viola. Taking inspiration from ritual prayers of the Pewenche people of the central Andean region, the work embodies the pantheistic ethos of their way of life in which the natural world and the deity are fused. The viola is amplified with added reverb to simulate playing alone in a mountainous terrain. The musical material alternates between melodic gestures derived from ethnomusicological fieldwork and violistic techniques that paint a meditative scene. Díaz’ second work on the album, Al fondo de mi lejanía se asoma tu casa (In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges), is a simple sonic recollection of a childhood memory. Diaz came up with the comforting theme to whistle as he took his daily walk to school through a pampa filled with animals, some of whom had a specific interest in the contents of his lunch bag.

Carlos Botto Vallarino was a pivotal figure in the Chilean concert music community, nationally beloved as a pedagogue, scholar, and composer. A student of Luigi Dallapiccola in New York on a Guggenheim post-graduate fellowship, Botto’s style reflects an affinity for character pieces and freely evolving structures. His Fantasía op. 15 opens with a brooding melody in the viola that is developed patiently, with supporting atmospheric piano chords that grow in intensity. Botto saves the most energetic music for the last minutes of the work, when a skittering dialogue develops between the instruments, broken up momentarily by expansive chords in the piano that recall sonorities from the somber opening.

Berlin-born, Buenos Aires raised Federico Heinlein spent the early part of his life between Argentina and Europe before settling permanently in Chile in 1940. Heinlein’s music reflects a wealth of literary points of inspiration — the Dylan Thomas reference in the subtitle of his Dúo “Do not go gentle” is consistent with that component of his work. Heinlein’s duo begins with taut declamatory phrases, displaying a discipline in its approach to motivic development that hearkens to late German romanticism. A lyrical second thematic area smooths the angular edges of the opening material. After a return of the opening, a virtuosic coda closes the work with fanfare.

David Cortés’ Tololo, one of the two works on Mobili written within the last decade, is a musical homage to the Coquimbo Region north of Santiago where he grew up, and to the astronomical wonders one can discover in its night skies. Cortés establishes a metaphor between his treatment of material and the way a telescope obscures and reveals visual information when zooming in and out. Establishing the low C string of the viola as a central pitch, Cortés builds layers of activity and tension above it, with glissandi on double stops that create microtonal beatings, left hand pizzicati, and evocative trills. The piano shadows the viola’s malleable gestures, subtly asserting the equal tempered framework around which the glissandi melt from pitch to pitch. The meditative quality of the work is broken briefly for a mischievous passage led by staccato scales in the piano about three quarters of the way through the work before we hear the opening material once again to bring the piece full circle.

Juan Orrego-Salas’ four movement work Mobili is focused and economical. The thoughtful, deliberative music in the opening movement, “Flessibile,” is occasionally interrupted by a forceful descending gesture in the piano. “Discontinuo” is more jagged, with playful interplay between the instruments. “Riccorente” unfolds as a slow march, with an initial piano melody over delicate viola pizzicati growing more rhapsodic as the melody switches instruments. An extended viola solo passage contains the most poignantly expressive music in the work. The final movement, “Perpetuo,” is vigorous and propulsive, closing this exceedingly well balanced work.

Included in the program as a bonus track is Argentine composer Carlos Gustavino’s charming El Sampedrino, a touching encore that highlights Rossi and Cheng’s elegant musical chemistry.

Mobili documents a rich repertoire for viola and piano from Chile, demonstrating not so much a national compositional style, but instead a constellation of influences from European modernism, to Chilean Indigenous music, to aspects of Chilean life and its landscape. Georgina Rossi’s impeccable precision is matched by a penetrating expressivity, complemented beautifully by Silvie Cheng’s sensitive performance in music that most often presents viola and piano as equal partners. Mobili is a warm and compelling invitation to discover more music from Chile, by these excellent composers from Chile and their forebears and successors.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded December 2019 at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY by Ryan Streber

Assistant engineer: Edwin Huet

Piano technician: Dan Jessie

Edited, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Streber

Producer: Georgina Isabel Rossi

Liner notes & translation: Georgina Isabel Rossi

Editing assistance: Silvie Cheng, Alfonso Ponce de León, Phil Rabovsky, Gail Wein

Artwork: © Georgina Isabel Rossi 

Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Georgina Rossi photo © Tayla Nebesky, taylanebesky.com

Silvie Cheng photo © Harald Hoffman, haraldhoffmann.com

Georgina Isabel Rossi

As a soloist, Chilean-American violist Georgina Isabel Rossi has performed with the Orquesta Sinfónica Uncuyo (Mendoza) and the Orquesta de Cámara de Chile, and enjoys a varied career on stage in North and South America. Santiago-born, she began her training with her mother, Penelope Knuth, moving to the United States on a Chilean national grant at sixteen to study at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Ms. Rossi is a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which she joined in 2016. She is a Fellow of the Toronto and Bowdoin Summer Music Festivals, holds a Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School, where she studied with Roger Tapping, and a Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music, where she was a student of Karen Dreyfus and Daniel Avshalomov. Ms. Rossi plays a 2014 viola made by Leonardo Anderi in Buenos Aires and an 1820 bow by Karl Wilhelm Knopf. Ms. Rossi is also a visual artist and draftswoman. She began her art education at an early age with Chilean artist Susana Larraín, and studied painting at the Art Students League of New York under Jerry Weiss. She lives in Washington Heights.

Silvie Cheng

Lauded for her “extraordinarily varied palette” (WholeNote Magazine) and “purely magical” playing (New York Concert Review), Chinese-Canadian pianist Silvie Cheng made her Carnegie Hall solo debut in 2011. Since then, she has premiered over forty works and performed in esteemed concert halls across the globe, from New York’s Steinway Hall to Brussels’ Flagey Hall, and Montréal’s Maison Symphonique to Shanghai’s Poly Theatre. Recent solo highlights include debuts with Symphony Nova Scotia and the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra. An active recitalist and sought-after chamber musician, Ms. Cheng tours extensively alongside her cellist brother Bryan Cheng, as the Cheng2 Duo; they have released a trilogy of critically-acclaimed albums on the German label audite. She is a teaching-artist of the Manhattan School of Music’s Distance Learning Program and of the Bridge Arts Ensemble in New York, where she is currently based.


Reviews

5

WQXR

The wonderful thing about technology is how easy it’s become to share music with people all over the world. Armed with that knowledge, violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng decided they wanted to bring some rarely-performed works by Chilean composers to the masses. Rossi and Cheng take us through five decades of Chilean viola music in Mobili, featuring world premiere recordings of works by Rafael Díaz, Carlos Botto, Federico Heinlein, and David Cortés, with a special tribute to Juan Orrego-Salas — who, just a few days before recording began, passed away. Feeling an incredible responsibility to do justice to his work, the duo decided to dedicate and name the album for his piece.

When I asked her about the album — a project two years in the making — Rossi revealed that the recording process was unlike anything she’d done before. The emotions going into creating the album were complex, and it felt particularly special because, with one exception, the works on Mobili had never been recorded before. And while Rossi shares a certain geographical connection to selections (she was born in Chile), she wanted to do the project because of the composers and pieces themselves: “They felt like treasures,” she says, “they’re top-notch.”

Orrego-Salas, for example, was in the United States for two years as a Rockefeller and a Guggenheim Foundation grantee, and he studied composition with Aaron Copland and George Herzog. “They were not nobodies,” Rossi says, they were just some of the many whose pieces had not been recorded due to a lack of funding. “There are not many opportunities to just stop everything and dedicate all this time and money into an endeavor of this nature.”

Nor is this album “[some] kind of niche Chilean thing that you have no connection to, because that’s just not the case,” says Rossi.

Of the five decades of music on this album, Rossi says the modern pieces are considered more traditional in a Western sense — more invested in tonality and beautiful melody rather than placing an extreme emphasis on intellectual composition, and that lends itself to the discovery of meaning here in the real and present world.

Cortez and Díaz are the youngest composers on the recording, and both incredibly connected to the landscape and nature in the creation of their pieces. The younger generations “care about the land we live on and how it’s being affected,” says Rossi, “and I think we think about the issues we’re facing here and now and try to solve them.” In her opinion, this is the rediscovery of harmony and melody, things that were left behind by the modernists.

Rafael Díaz’s ¿Habrá alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling?), for solo viola, opens the album. At the beginning of it, I feel like I’m falling indeed — gently, slowly, and my feet eventually touch the ground. Expertly played, the music guides you through the listening experience, one minute passing by into the next without noticing. According to the notes, “Taking inspiration from ritual prayers of the Pewenche people of the central Andean region, the work embodies the pantheistic ethos of their way of life in which the natural world and the deity are fused.”

David Cortés’ Tololo is a musical homage to the Coquimbo Region, where he grew up. If you do a Google search, you’ll see that the area is full of observatories you can visit to view the astronomical wonders of the night sky — and the music reflects that. As I listen, I transcend the telescopes and lenses, and I’m walking through the cosmos watching stars explode into supernova around me.

Really listening to music requires a person to unplug from the world around them, because how much can you really appreciate something if it’s on in the background? In the end, Rossi hopes people will give the album a chance, and approach it with an open mind — if someone were to take five minutes out of their day to sit with the music, that would mean the world to her.

The album is worth more than five minutes, that’s for sure. I can feel the emotion and love behind each piece, and I can feel the culture. Mobili brings me to a world I have never been to, and takes me around, showing me something new. That’s what this album is — something new. And it is worthy of attention.

— Camille Mojica, 11.13.2020

5

Midwest Record

A true labor of love recording as this Chilean violist plays a slew of world premiere recordings by Chilean composers. A world renown egghead that just doesn’t play like it, this mostly solo recording finds her obviously front and center and making the most of it filling the room with sound that needs very little coloration. Not at all close to any kind of world beat you world expect, this set finds classical music existing in a world of it’s own no matter how contemporary or foreign. Quite the captivating recital.

— Chris Spector

5

InfoDad

Social consciousness, international focus, a rethinking of what music is and what it means and how it is made – these and more are the ingredients of new recordings that aim to explore our current troubled times while giving listeners chances to hear sounds, both unconventional and traditional, produced in ways intended to evoke a strong emotional and/or intellectual response. These approaches represent a kind of new focus in music, which makes it appropriate for New Focus Recordings to be the name of a primary provider of discs of this type. World première recordings of Chilean chamber music are the specific focus of a CD featuring violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng. The two works on the disc by Rafael Díaz neatly encapsulate two elements of contemporary seekings after new forms of meaning and expression. Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling? (that is the English translation of the title) is for solo but amplified viola and is based on prayer-songs of indigenous Andean people. It sounds, however, like a great deal of modern music in the way it works against the basic tonal qualities for which the viola is designed and known – its greater warmth and resonance compared with the violin – and extends the instrument’s sound into regions in which it is not fully comfortable, no matter how well-played. This is quite intentional on Díaz’s part, because in his other piece here, In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges (again, the English translation of the title), he skillfully uses the viola’s natural tonal beauty to good purpose, and juxtaposes it with the piano in ways both effective and moving. This work is intended as a throwback – a sound-image of an old memory of walking to school – so its more-old-fashioned aural quality is surely deliberate. And it comes across better in its six minutes than does the amplified-viola work at almost twice that length. Carlos Botto’s Fantasia, Op. 15, also for viola and piano, is more modern-sounding in its treatment of the viola and in its many stylistic, rhythmic and tempo changes. Still another viola-and-piano piece, Dúo “Do not go gentle” by Federico Heinlein, is determinedly dissonant and difficult to grasp structurally or emotionally – with the result that it sounds like a great deal of contemporary music created more for the composer’s benefit than for that of the audience. Also here is Tololo for viola and string orchestra, by David Cortés as arranged by Miguel Farías. This is a work intended to reflect specific external, geographical sounds and landscapes but coming across – like Díaz’s amplified-viola work – mostly as an exercise in sonic combinations without apparent reference to anything in particular. The only multi-movement piece here is Mobili, Op. 63, for viola and piano, by Juan Orrego-Salas. It strikes a better balance between overtly modernistic sound and the inherent warmth of the viola, allowing some of the more-discordant material to be handled by the piano instead of the stringed instrument. Singing qualities keep appearing in the first movement, “Flessibile,” and are quite absent in the second, the scherzo-like “Discontinuo.” The third and longest movement, “Ricorrente,” is slow-paced, mostly quiet, and pays homage to the concept of lyricism without ever quite producing any overtly lyrical thematic material. The finale, “Perpetuo,” is the sort of perpetuum mobile implied by its title, the viola here largely disjointed-sounding while the piano perpetuates a degree of continuity beneath it. The disc concludes with El Sampedrino by Carlos Guastavino, as arranged for viola and piano by Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin, and this is a surprisingly effective conclusion in its warmth, beauty and moderate pace. It is a gently insistent reminder that no matter what today’s composers may choose to explore sonically, the inherent qualities of an instrument such as the viola are ultimately more involving than any extension or alteration to which the instrument may be subjected.

— Mark Estren, 10.01.2020

5

Take Effect Reviews

The Chilean-American violist Georgina Isabel Rossi comes together with the award winning pianist Silvie Cheng on this first ever record devoted to Chilean music for viola. Pulling from 6 pieces that spans 5 decades, the pair put much heart and soulfulness into the endeavor, and the result is quite admirable.

The album starts with a pair of Rafael Díaz pieces, as ¿Habrá alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? starts with amplified viola taking us on a 10 minute journey of quivering, sublime string acrobatics with no shortage of reverb, and Al fondo de mi lejanía se asoma tu casa follows with piano and viola interacting in beautiful, sometimes aching ways that are both orchestral and classical.

Deeper into the listen, David Cortés’ Tololo, one of the most current pieces, uses viola with a string orchestra to radiate warmth and adventurousness that occasionally gets abrasive and even haunting in its creative layering, while Mobili op.63, by Juan Orrego-Salas, comes in 4 movement that range from piano focused and graceful, to more jagged and even with a slow march atmosphere. Carlos Guastavino’s El Sampedrino exits the listen with Rossi and Cheng’s dynamic chemistry emitting a stirring, fascinating finish to a very accomplished listen.

The composer of the title work, Juan Orrego-Salas, passed away just before this album was recorded, and the effort is dedicated to his spirit. A tragic loss, Rossi and Cheng knew that this collaboration would need to honor his memory well, and the rich, meticulous and expressive project certainly does not disappoint.

— Tom Haugen, 10.12.2020

5

Classical Voice of North Carolina

Georgina Isabel Rossi (viola) and Silvie Cheng (piano) present an album of world premiere recordings featuring Chilean composers Carlos Botto (1923-2004); David Cortéz (b.1985); Rafael Díaz (b.1962); Federico Heinlein (1912-99); and Juan Orrego-Salas) (1919-2019). From the stunning cover art and well-written liner notes, crafted by Rossi, to the music within, this is a treasure-trove for anyone who loves the deep, rich sound of the viola.

Rossi enjoys a career as soloist, performing on stages in North and South America. Born in Santiago, Chile, Rossi began her musical studies with her mother, Penelope Knuth. At age sixteen she was accepted at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan before continuing her viola study in New York. She holds a Master of Music from the Juilliard School and the Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music. She is a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. This is her debut album.

Highly acclaimed pianist Silvie Cheng performs on the world stage and has recorded extensively. She also collaborates with her brother, Bryan Cheng (The Cheng2 Duo). She is a teaching-artist at the Manhattan School of Music's Distance Learning and for the Bridge Arts Ensemble in New York City.

The music includes works by two living composers along with three beloved composers born during the early 20th century. This collection, so beautifully assembled by Rossi, is not in search of a national style. Each composer speaks with a unique voice; yet all five share a love of Chile and the natural world.

The recording begins with two pieces by Díaz, composer and ethnomusicologist. ¿Habrá alguien que sus manos sostenga esta caer? ("Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling?" (2009), for amplified viola and the only piece for solo viola, makes for a riveting start. Rossi's bold yet refined extended technique illuminates the composer's almost cinematic use of melodies he collected from indigenous people of the Andes Mountains. Díaz counts Al fondo de mi lejanía se asoma tu casa ("In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges" (2013) as his Op.1 composition, referring to a childhood memory, walking alone to school across a pampa in Patagonia. Applying a pastoral motivic device (M6); he created a tune we can all remember. And accompanied with the piano's watery set of ostinatos, it provides a lovely contrast that reflects the magnificent and diverse geography of Chile.

Fantasia, Op. 15, for viola and piano (1962), by Botto, did not break new ground but rather synthesized trends of the mid-20th century. He spun colorful lines into conversations between the two instruments; creating expressions through textural density; and he used long pauses that keep the listeners' attention. Botto is remembered for his teaching and academic contributions at the National Conservatory in Santiago.

Heinlein was born in Berlin, raised in Buenos Aires, and became a citizen of Chile, where he spent his career as a writer and composer. His 1985 composition, "Dúo: Do Not Go Gentle," refers to Dylan Thomas' poetry; it's edgy yet beautiful. Cheng's strong playing coupled with Rossi's lush tone summons the emotion of the text.

Originally penned for viola and orchestra, Tololo (2011) was premiered by Penelope Knuth and the Orquesta de Cámara de Chile. Imagining images through a telescope at the great observatory, Cortés' work can be described by timbre, texture, pitch, amplitude, and duration; the features of post-modern music. This arrangement, by Miguel Farías, is splendid, but I hope that Rossi will perform this with orchestra in the near future; and I would like to be there for the occasion.

The last composition is Juan Orrego-Salas' Mobili, Op. 63. The only work for viola by the composer, who is also an architect, stands like a towering skyscraper among the others. Rossi writes, "....the impeccable designs of his 1967 Mobili are gleaming in their precision, with melodies that emerge like light through intricate latticework." Deservedly, the album is named and dedicated to his memory. It is an exquisite closing to a remarkable collection.

Rossi plays El Sampedrino a song by a romantic Argentinian composer, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) (arr. Kim Kashkashian, Robert Levin). A sweet melody, it feels like a sad farewell kiss.

— Karen E. Moorman, 10.15.2020

5

International Society for Chilean Music (SIMUC)

Absolutely priceless. This first compilation of Chilean music for viola introduces, in the best possible way, five previously unrecorded works and a duo of extraordinary performers to the international recording stage. In many respects, the album is also a story of comings and goings between North and South America. Georgina Rossi is a young violist based in New York, but her roots go back to Santiago through her father, the famous clarinetist and luthier Luis Rossi, and her mother and first teacher, Penelope Knuth, who is originally from the Big Apple. Both Rossi and her mother obtained their Master's at the Juilliard School, separated by a distance of more than three decades, and both come together again in the dedication of the first work on this album—published by the American label New Focus Recordings and distributed by Naxos of America.

¿Habrá alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling?) (2009) by Rafael Díaz uses amplification to slide the viola through a wide, resonant sound space while meditating on fragments of Pewenche melodies. Here, Rossi shows off her ability to sustain a beautiful and expressive cantabile line while dexterously handling the widest intervals imposed by the score. This is the only work for solo viola on the album; all the other pieces add the sensitive and reliable presence of Chinese-Canadian pianist Silvie Cheng. The audio engineering by the experienced Ryan Streber is also excellent, with a subtle and pleasant reverb that enriches the first track without clouding the textures. Streber's expertise particularly graces Rafael Díaz's second piece, En el fondo de mi distancia se asoma tu casa (In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges) (2013), a melody of moving simplicity that sometimes seems like a meditation on a Chilean “tonada" in an environment close to sacred minimalism. The rest of the program does not offer connections with the vernacular music of Chile, although Tololo alludes to the famous observatory in the north of the country. It was premiered in 2011 by Penelope Knuth in its original format with a string orchestra, when its young composer, David Cortés (b. 1985), won the Luis Advis Competition. Rossi uses an arrangement for piano by Miguel Farías that gives a more pointillist vision of the incisive gestures that characterize the score. Tololo's astronomical allusions inspire the graphics soberly incorporated into the disc's bilingual and highly informative booklet: planets of different colors and textures created by Georgina Rossi herself. They are presented as hanging mobiles, alluding to another piece in the program: Mobili by Juan Orrego Salas (1919-2019).

The album was conceived in celebration of the hundredth birthday of this outstanding composer, based at Indiana University since 1961. Unfortunately, he passed away a few days before the recording of this album, which became a tribute to his life and work. Mobili (1967) is the only piece on the album previously recorded (by Kim Kashkashian no less, on an out-of-print record). It was dedicated to the Chilean violist of Spanish origin Manuel Díaz, who was studying in Indiana with Primrose. A few years later, Díaz settled permanently in the United States, together with his talented son Roberto, who also added this neoclassical work to his repertoire, the four movements of which complement one another as in a baroque sonata. Perpetuo Finale is the most propulsive section of the entire album, not far from Prokofiev's toccatas or Ginastera's malambos. The sudden contrast with a calm Pampean song by Argentine Carlos Guastavino, incorporated as a bonus track, is not out of place. The program is rounded out by two more works that oscillate between meditation and frank drama: the Fantasia by Carlos Botto (disciple of Orrego-Salas and Dallapiccola), a work premiered by Manuel Díaz in his graduation recital in 1962, and the Dúo: Do Not Go Gentle (1985) by Federico Heinlein, which sounds like a neo-romantic response to Dylan Thomas's famous poem “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

— Felipe Elgueta Frontier, 9.30.2020

5

WFMT

Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng release Mobili, an overview of Chilean repertoire featuring viola. Compiling six works by five composers, including five world-premiere recordings, the album highlights the rich tapestry of influences that have shaped Chilean concert music, from European high modernism to Indigenous music of the Andean region. It is a project that is both deeply personal for Rossi – who was born and raised in Chile – and groundbreaking for the composers, as it is the first-ever album dedicated to Chilean music for viola.

— Lisa Flynn, 10.16.2020

5

The Whole Note

Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi, who was born and raised in Chile, and pianist Silvie Cheng are the duo on MOBILI: Music for Viola and Piano from Chile, a CD featuring world-premiere recordings of works by the Chilean composers Rafael Diaz, Carlos Botto, Federico Heinlein and David Cortés (New Focus Recordings FCR268 newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue). The only work previously recorded is the four-movement title track, Mobili Op.63 by Juan Orrego-Salas, who passed away at 100 just a few weeks before the CD was recorded, and to whose memory the album is dedicated.

The Diaz works are Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling for amplified viola, and In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges for viola and piano. Botto’s Fantasia Op.15 from 1962 and Heinlein’s Duo “Do not go gentle” from 1985 are followed by Cortés’ Tololo, written in 2011 for viola and string orchestra and heard here in an arrangement for viola and piano by Miguel Farras. Carlos Guastavino’s really lovely El Sampedrino from 1968 is an extra track, not included in the booklet notes.

Fine playing of introspective and quite atmospheric music that really exploits the viola’s sonority to the full, results in an excellent CD.

— Terry Robbins, 11.02.2020

5

Large Stage Live

Jokes about violas and viola players are legion in the musical world, as much so as jokes about altos, and for the same reasons -- perennially buried in the middle of the harmony under a wave of violins or sopranos, and frequently consigned to the third of the chord. Rarely does a viola get a chance to shine as a leading or solo instrument.

But now comes a startling new recording, Mobili, from Georgina Isabel Rossi (viola) and Silvie Cheng (piano) which is guaranteed to make you sit up and listen with newly attentive ears.

It's not just the relative rarity of a recital CD featuring the viola at front and centre, but also the rarity (to North American ears) of the programme -- an anthology of music by 20th century and 21st century composers mainly from Chile.

None of these composers have previously come to my attention, nor -- I suspect -- to the attention of most music lovers outside of their Chilean homeland. Apart from one piece, all the works on this album are receiving their debut recorded performances. And that is -- on both counts -- definitely a situation due for redress.

The album opens with two works by Rafael Díaz (b. 1962). The first, ¿Habrá alguien en sus manos sostenga este caer? ("Will there be someone whose hands can sustain this falling?"), composed in 2009, is a visionary, almost otherworldly rhapsody for solo amplified viola. That quasi-extra-terrestrial atmosphere belies the traditional prayer music of the Pewenche aboriginal peoples of the Andes, which (together with birdsong figures) lies at the root of this intriguing composition.

The second work from Díaz, equally remarkable, is Al fondo de mi lejanía se asoma tu casa ("In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges"), written in 2013, which evokes a remote Chilean landscape through which the composer walked to school as a child. The music captures the haunting, impersonal air of the vast open spaces, and the piano now joins the viola in gentle trills which again evoke birdsong.

Next up is an early Fantasía, op. 15 (1962) for viola and piano by Carlos Botto Vallarino (1923-2004). Botto's music was influenced by the European modernism of the mid-twentieth century, in particular the work of Luigi Dallapiccola, with whom he studied. In this work, the slower sections often conceal the harmonic disjunction between viola and piano by resorting to different registers which place the sounds of the two instruments on different planes. The faster passages emphasize the jagged contours of the viola part against quiet but firm piano chords.

Federico Heinlein (1912-1999) contributes a Dúo, Op. 15, for viola and piano, written in 1985. The title page of the work refers to Dylan Thomas with the quotation, "Do not go gentle." This music evinces nothing of rage against the dying of the light, but there is disquiet in plenty with the strange twists and turns of harmony, combining quiet dynamics with the most vigorous harmonic disruption. The work ends with an incomplete phrase like a quizzical question mark.

With the Tololo of David Cortés (written in 2011), we arrive in perhaps my least-favourite corner of contemporary composition -- the neighbourhood where a composer must produce detailed, even pedantic programme notes, to make clear what he or she was doing and how it ought to be received and appreciated by the listener. I have long believed that the more a creative artist must explain in words what is being done, the less successful the created piece is in its own terms. This, for me, is a principle which applies equally whether we speak of music, of dance, of theatre, or of the visual arts. Call me old-fashioned, and perhaps I am, but I regard copious programme notes as -- at best -- a crutch.

The work which Cortés (b. 1985) has produced here consists of numerous piquant gestures, lacking a firm structural basis to hold them together. The composer himself, by the way, has referred to his musical elements as "gestural." The sounds are intriguing, to be sure, but here was the one place where I felt that the composer had worn out his welcome before the composition ended.

The anchor work of the entire programme, Mobili, Op. 63 by Juan Orrego-Salas (1919-2019), was composed in 1967. It's an 18-minute suite of four movements, which bear the evocative titles Flessibile, Discontinuo, Ricorrente, and Perpetuo. Flessibile often uses the viola and piano independently, with each instrument taking its turn to present the material. Discontinuo presents a kind of scherzo with piano and viola darting hither and yon, with occasional tart explosions from one or the other highlighting the essentially quiet textures. Ricorrente presents a slow, meditative, even ponderous duet for the two instruments which suggest an examination of issues larger than mere worldly concerns. The final Perpetuo, as its title indicates, is a fast-moving stream of continuous melody, with numerous lightning-fast shifts of metre adding considerable rhythmic complexity. The movement, and the suite, end on three emphatic chords.

The album ends with a bonus track which is something of a cuckoo in the nest: an arrangement of El Sampredrino (1968) by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000). In contrast with the rest of the music, this is a setting of a lyrical melody. Guastavino was renowned above all as a composer of songs, and his output fuses nineteenth-centuy romanticism with a strong Latin-American sensibility. This song exemplifies his style.

Throughout this hour-long recital, violist Rossi and pianist Cheng present the most intriguing and sensitive textures, especially in repertoire which is predominantly quiet rather than loud and emphatic. Rossi plays with clear, unforced tone across the entire dynamic and tonal range of her instrument, creating fascinating variety of sound in a programme which might -- in other hands -- end up being too much of the same thing. Cheng creates a diverse, subtly varied array of sounds and textures on the piano, again avoiding any suspicion of routine.

This partnership of artists serves the music very well indeed, drawing us into the different sound worlds of these diverse composers and presenting a fascinating cross-section of contemporary composition in Chile. While it's challenging listening, this album is also rewarding and has many moments that will well repay the listener's attention.

— Ken Stephen, 11.03.2020

5

Cinemusical

Mobili takes its title from a significant work by Juan Orrego-Salas (1919-2019) that anchors this collection of music for viola by Chilean composers. Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi’s program is a blend of works from the 1960s and the 21st Century exploring work by six composers. Rossi is a Chilean-born performer who has performed throughout the Americas and is currently a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. She is joined here by Silvie Cheng who is known for her championing of new music and has recorded with her brother on the audite label.

The program is organized with the opening five works being shorter pieces and the larger multi-movement work serving as the conclusion with a brief encore-like piece to wrap things off. Two pieces by Rafael Diaz (b.1962) open the album. The first of these, Habra alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (2009), is for amplified viola and uses a prayer-like folk melody from the Andes’ indigenous Pewenche people. The arc of the piece is related to the “sonorities” of prayer and opens with a ascending cry that will shift to a more lyrical, contemplative section. The outlines of the viola line suggest landscapes and there are musical gestures to also indicate bird calls. The Chilean landscape also informs Diaz’s In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges (2013). The composer’s ethnomusicological exploration of indigenous music is also present in this work.

The earliest work on the album is Carlos Botto’s (1923-2004) Fantaisie, Op, 15 (1962). His work is among those combining modernist tendencies and references to more traditional forms and genres, of which this work is a fine example. The open piano harmonies provide a careful underpinning of the almost romantic-like emotion of the solo line that moves into more intense segments as the motives of the piece are unpacked and explored in the work which has an excellent dramatic engagement whose episodic nature allows for a variety of challenges to overcome. Federico Heinlein (1912-1999) counts among his teachers Nadia Boulanger. His output focuses on poetic settings with the instrumental works often referencing poetry. That is the case for his Duo “Do Not Go Gentle” (1985) which takes inspiration from a Dylan Thomas poem. There are some really beautiful, folk-like romantic lines that provide a warm, emotional core to this music. Tololo (2011) wraps up this first part of the program. Originally for viola and string orchestra, this David Cortes (b. 1985) work takes its inspiration from the home of an important observatory on Mount Tololo. The music follows the imagination of seeing through a telescope with its ability to see far and zoom in for new detail.

Mobili, Op. 63 is a four-movement work by Orrego-Salas (1967). The first movement has a sparse piano accompaniment and focuses on a long, lyrical line that grows slowly upward. The piano tends to provide signposts and will then revisit the material from the solo line, expanding the harmonic tension. “Discontinuo” is a contrasting movement of jagged and angular writing. Interaction between the soloist becomes heightened here adding to a sense of unease that keeps things on edge. In “Ricorrente”, seems to blend a seeking out and have a veiled reference to ricercare, with its somewhat staggered commentary between the soloist and piano. The motivic idea introduced is expanded and explored between the two which sometimes come together. The longest movement of the four, it seems to also hold a stronger emotional core which is mined well here by Rossi. Things are wrapped up with a brilliant “Perpetuo” movement to provide more technical and virtuosic challenges.

As a bonus track, the program concludes with a transcription of the song El Sampredrino (1968) by the composer often called the Argentinean Schubert, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000). His music fits into the more folk-inspired styles (a la Ginastera) with nods to the post-romantics. It makes for a touching conclusion.

While the music here tends toward more modernist contemporary qualities, the expressiveness of these pieces is captured beautifully by Rossi who navigates these moments of lyricism with beautiful playing. Her articulation for the rapid passage moments also works to aid the dramatic contrasts of the pieces on this program. The careful placement of these works also gradually expands the tonal palette so that the ear adjusts to the open, modern harmonies. When the music introduces a more romantic-tinged line, they stand out in stunning contrast to the quartal/quintal harmonic piano accompaniment which is handled equally well by Cheng. Perhaps it is the warm tone of the viola which also makes this album further inviting and certainly worth a look for those interested in expanding their musical world. Sound quality is excellent with a perfect balance of soloist and piano, both imaged well in the sonic picture. The piano has a nice warm quality with just enough ambience to warm things up and keep them from being to dry. This is due as much to the excellent performances that are captured in this fine release.

— n/a, 11.10.2020

5

KDFC Our Favorite Albums of the Year

One of my favorite discoveries of the year was an album of music by Chilean composers released in October by the Chilean-American violist Georgina Isabel Rossi. Al fondo de me lejanía se asoma tu casa (“In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges”) is a moment of sheer beauty and calm in what has been a turbulent and uncertain year.

— Brian Lauritzen, 11.30.2020

5

Lucid Culture

The quality of music for obscure instrumentation tends to land at one extreme or another. On the positive side, it takes real dedication for a composer to go outside the box for an ensemble such as a viola-and-piano duo. For anyone wondering what if any repertoire for viola and piano by Chilean composers exists, Mobili, the new album by violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng answers that question with a vigorous yes!

Rossi opens the record – streaming at Bandcamp – with Rafael Diaz’s 2009 solo piece ¿Habrá alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (Will There Be Someone Whose Hands Can Sustain This Falling?), which begins with a plaintive glissando followed by shivery, sirening figures, a fascinating blend of the catchy and the severe, bluesiness alternating with minimalist echoes, steady flutters against anxious sustain.

Cheng joins Rossi for his 2013 work, Al fondo de mi lejanía se asoma tu casa (In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges), a moody neoromantic waltz, pointillistic piano contrasting with soaring viola. Carlos Botto’s 1962 Fantasía, op.15 for viola and piano gets a dynamic, emphatic workout that’s both assertively plaintive and starrily mysterious.

Federico Heinlein’s 1985 Dúo Do not go gentle is his only work for viola, Rossi parsing the cello-like lower registers with aching vibrato over Cheng’s steady, enigmatic, acidic phrasing. Then the two tackle Miguel Farías’ arrangement of David Cortés’ 2011 Tololo for viola and string orchestra, Rossi with a regal, fanged, cello-like attack and Cheng fleeting and more quietly eerie. It grows more plaintive, and more of a viola concerto as it goes on.

The album’s title track is a four-part suite by Juan Orrego-Salas, who died last year at the age of one hundred. The first part, “Flessibile” follows a steady, acidically strolling upward trajectory and then starts over. The brief second movement, “Discontinuo," is very Alban Berg: classical gestures, modernist tonalities. The duo bring back the broodingly elegant stroll in movement three, Ricorrente and close on an enigmatic, rather doctrinare twelve-tone note.

Carlos Guastavino’s melancholy 1968 pavane El Sampedrino gives the duo a terse platform for aching lyricism and nocturnal atmosphere. Kudos to them for helping to grow the audience for this material.

— Alan Young, 12.03.2020

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