By Cristina Schreil
Ariana Kim, gazing downward and posed against sun-dappled trees, may at first appear plucked from a Free People catalog. Don’t be fooled by the cover art—the violinist’s first solo album packs a smart punch.
Including Ieva Jokubaviciute on piano and harpsichord and Jennifer Curtis on mandolin and fiddle, Routes of Evanescence is a piquant, diverse survey of female-composed works, spanning 1926 to 2012. There are many flavors afoot, from folk to bluegrass to classical, but the clear thread is the ephemeral nature of music itself. It’s a little paradoxical for the medium of a record. But even more intriguing is a kind of spiritual journey at the core of each work. Kim et al channel an effective range of emotions, at times bouncing to jubilance but at others slinking down to haunting despair or tense rumination—as moments do beautifully in Sonata for Violin and Piano by Ruth Crawford Seeger. Also included is Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Sonata in Three Movements for violin and piano, which earned her the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a female composer.
Pieces where Kim plays solo scintillate, and she expresses everything between gossamer trills and muscular double-stops with absorbing emotion. But works bringing in the mandolin or harpsichord are especially pleasing. Tonia Ko’s “Still Life Crumbles” joins Jokubaviciute’s peculiar harpsichord with Kim’s diaphanous bowing and sudden sparks of pizzicato. It all sounds like a gothic tumble down Alice’s rabbit hole.
Also rousing are the album-bookending collaborations with Curtis, who first plays mandolin and later takes up the fiddle. The first track, by Curtis, springs between animated passages echoing Paganini and folk, and more languid, leisurely ones. The conversation kick-starts the theme of fleeting emotion—later inviting a wry smile with an appropriately sudden album ending.
Routes of Evanescence: Music for Solo Violin & Violin + 1 by American Women Composers