ROYAL NORTHERN SINFONIA: Bartók, Casken, Beethoven


Royal Northern Sinfonia

Thomas Zehetmair: violin, conductor; Ruth Killius: viola

ECM NEW SERIES2595               

John CaskenThat Subtle Knot

The ECM CD features the recorded premiere of John Casken’s That Subtle Knot, a work inspired by the poetry of John Donne, whose title comes from The Ecstasy, a poem that depicts two lovers sitting on a riverbank: Our eye beams twisted and did thread / Our eyes upon one double string. The work, structured in one continuous movement has the viola play “as if recalling an old folk song.” The violin then enters, engaging in dialogue between the two.

Béla BartókViola Concerto in A minor

The Viola Concerto in A minor was one of the last pieces written by Béla Bartók, who began composing it in July of 1945. The work was commissioned by violist William Primrose, who entreated Bartók “not to feel in any way proscribed by the apparent technical limitations of the instrument.” Starting as early as 1944 Primrose and Bartók had exchanged several letters regarding the piece, in one of which Bartók claimed that he had almost completed the concerto, which in fact was not the case, as Bartók was suffering from terminal leukemia when he had begun work on the concerto, sadly leaving only sketches at the time of his death. The concerto subsequently underwent several revisions by different people, until it was premiered in 1949, by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra with Antal Doráti conducting and William Primrose as violist.

The recording is rounded out with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No, 5, in C Minor, Op. 68.


Thomas Zehetmair, violinist and conductor, and violist Ruth Killius pair up in an intriguingly dramatic performance of John Casken’s That Subtle Knot, delivering rhapsodically lyric utterances on their individual instruments.

Ruth Killius takes on Béla Bartók’ Viola Concerto in A minor, bringing out all the subtleties of the Hungarian master’s musical palette with a burnished singing tone, and impeccable technical command of her often neglected instrument.

Thomas Zehetmair leads the superb Royal Northern Sinfonia, drawing at times a massively volcanic sound of what is essentially a chamber orchestra, while t others caressingly coaxing the subtlest of dynamics and colors from his orchestral forces in all three of the works featured in this, his farewell recording with the orchestra he has led for over a decade.

Rafael de Acha (c) 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: