Songs Of Solitude: A Musical Journal For Viola

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

When the pandemic lockdowns started in the spring of 2020, violist Hiyoli Togawa conceived Songs of Solitude, commissioning 11 composers to write solo pieces for her. In between certain pieces, Togawa inserts Sarabandes from Bach’s cello suites. According to Togawa, the result adds up to a musical journal of the pandemic. Along with Togawa’s written introduction, the composers write about their respective works and their own lockdown experiences.

The program begins with Toshio Hosokawa’s spacious and delicate arrangement of the traditional Japanese folk song Sakura. Johanna Doderer’s Shadows features long drawn-out lines and declamatory outbursts. José Serebrier’s Nostalgia takes ample advantage of the beefy tone that Togawa draws from her lower strings. Short melodic lines and striking silences characterize Tigran Mansurian’s Ode an die Stille. Michiru Oshima’s Silence is anything but silence, and builds to a rhythmically insistent climax.

In Kalevi Aho’s Am Horizont, the composer asks the violist to interweave playing and singing to hauntingly subtle effect. By contrast, John Powell’s vivacious Perfect Time for a Spring Cleaning is like a madcap hornpipe where Togawa multitracks nine separate viola parts that petulantly scramble for equal attention. This may be my favorite among the commissions, although I like the unpretentious dry wit throughout Gabriel Prokofiev’s 5 Impressions of Self-Isolation, where Togawa deftly navigates the quick shifts between arco and pizzicato.

At first Federico Gardella’s Consolation appears to be yet another introspective, slow-moving dirge, yet the droning low C-string gradually gains urgency as the cantabile slides in the higher registers become more intense and anguished. Togowa takes her time with the Bach Sarabandes, judiciously determining when to refrain from vibrato and when to employ it. I also should mention the booklet’s lovely photographs and artwork examples. Should these pieces enjoy a post-Covid shelf life (and I’ll be willing to bet on at least four, for sure!), future violists will be hard pressed to match Togawa’s instrumental mastery and committed musicianship. Recommended.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Songs of Solitude
Reference Recording: None

Works by Kalevi Aho, J.S. Bach, Johanna Doderer, Federico Gardella, Toshio Hosokawa, Tigran Mansurian, Michiru Oshima, John Powell, Gabriel Prokofiev, Rhian Samuel, José Serebrier, & Cristina Spinei

  • Hiyoli Togawa (viola)

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