Throughout more than a dozen tracks in her debut CD for Blue Griffin Records (BGR609), the extraordinary violist Wenting Kang is superlatively partnered by pianist Sergei Kvitko, as they embrace the stylistic nexus between the French and Spanish composers that established personal and professional connections in the last days of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century.

Some of them were linked as professor and student, as were Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Ravel. Others were simply friends, such as Fauré and Isaac Albéniz, or else professional colleagues, as were Ravel and Manuel de Falla. Without exception, these artists were connected across the Pyrenees despite their diverse cultural roots: Basques and Andalusians, Parisians and Catalans. What united them were their talents and, in all cases, their unabashed passion for the art of music

Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdo de la Alhambra, in a transcription for viola is a tour de force in which Ms. Kang sustains two voices: a lower one that anchors with a steady flow of supportive sound an upper voice that carries a melody originally conceived for plucking on a guitar – a technically challenging effect that often trips up guitarists, and one that Wenting Kang sustains for the duration of the iconic miniature by the Valencian composer.

Elsewhere, Ms. Kang inhabits Isaac Albéniz’ Tango in D Major while using double stops and ascending and descending figurations that balance the languor of the Catalonian composer’s music with technical hurdles that the Chinese violist surmounts with complete aplomb.

In a transcription of Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas Kang navigates the tenderness of the Nana and the wistfulness of the Asturiana, the devil-may-care attitude of El Paño Moruno and the cheekiness of the Seguidilla Murciana, along with the fiery melismas of the Polo, transitioning from song to song with an ever-elegant mix of cool brain and warm heart.

In Pablo Casals El cant dels ocells and in Akira Nishimura’s Fantasia on Song of the Birds, Ms. Kang achieves an intense rhapsodic tone perfect for both Casals’ original and for the work to which it pays homage. Listening to Wenting Kang’s playing this piece, this listener was convinced that the Chinese artist must have carefully studied its original Catalan lyrics, as well as the texts of all the songs in this album – such is her uncannily perfect phrasing.

Gabriel Fauré’s enchanting Papillon vividly depicts a butterfly now in flight, now at rest in music that alternates between dizzying agility and soothing tranquility, all of it impeccably handled by the artist’s flawless technique and sophisticated musicality.

In pieces originally conceived for the human voice – Debussy’s Beau Soir, Ravel’s Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera, and Fauré’s Après un rêve – in which seamless legato is of the uppermost importance, Ms. Kang spins a deep, dark cantabile sound that evokes at times the timbre of a contralto. In Berceuse another piece by the French master – one of four featured in this CD – Ms. Kang infuses touching tenderness to an enchanting melody originally conceived for violin con sordino.

It has been a while since I have listened with such pleasure to a debut album. Wenting Kang is an artist to watch, and she has a terrific collaborative pianist and a keen engineer in one person: his name is Sergei Kvitko, and he has provided Ms. Kang as her engineer with a perfect aural environment in which she time and again excels. That, and Kvitko’s pliant, ever supportive, intensely musical playing is paired to Wenting Kang’s heavenly playing all throughout this indispensable debut CD.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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