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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

CD REVIEW | TSO Violist Teng Li Offers Deeply Engaging CD Debut

By Michael Vincent on July 9, 2015

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Teng Li (Viola) with Meng-Chieh Liu (Piano), and Benjamin Bowman (Violin). 1939, Chamber works by Jongen, Ullmann, Hindemith, Hua, and Klein (Azica)

Teng Li –Principal Violist of the Toronto Symphony and member of Trio Arkel – has recorded a wonderful debut CD of titled 1939. The disc is comprised of works composed around WWII,  a dark period where music took a fatalistic turn and drove a new sound that tested the limits of aesthetic construction.

Li first became fascinated with the period after discovering Hindemith’s Viola Sonata (1939) while studying at the Curtis Institute in her teens. The emotional trajectory of the work drove Teng to a musical obsession with the period which she describes in the liner notes: “I found music from various places written in different styles, each with unusually creative compositional techniques. I wanted to showcase the works of different composers at that point in history to express how human beings from all walks of life can be affected during such horrific times.”

The CD not only highlights how the Second World War made an indelible mark on the music from the mid-twentieth century but also Teng’s unique voice as a violist. It is her curiosity that brings the CD to life.

Most satisfying are those by Joseph Jongen (Concerto for Viola and Piano, Op. 111), Viktor Ullmann (Five Love Songs for Soprano, Op 26 – brilliantly transcribed for viola and piano by Meng-Chieh Liu) and Gideon Klein’s thorny Duo for Violin and Viola.

There is little to fault with the recording, which sounds pristine and gilded from the Glenn Gould Studio. In particular the tone of Teng’s viola is remarkable (Teng performs using a 1703 Amati viola, on loan from Dr.William Waters).

The golden bow of violinist Benjamin Bowman is also a CD highlight, making Klein’s microtonal contribution glimmer with brilliance.

Li’s first official recording carries a clear voice and an engaging premise well worth repeated listing.

Available via Amazon.com or iTunes.

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