In a new series, members of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra share their own musical favourites...

Today, meet viola player David Kenny - listen to David's playlist, via Spotify, and read more about his picks below...

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Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs – Beim Schlafengehen

Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, settings of poems by Hesse and Eichendorff, are true gems of the orchestral repertoire. Composed a year before his death, aged 85, they are his final completed works, set for soprano and orchestra. I find each song profoundly moving. Through both the text and music, he beautifully captures the emotions of someone who is knowingly approaching the later stages of life, yet is completely calm, content and fulfilled.

The recording I keep returning to is the 2008 Decca performance by Renée Fleming and the Munich Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann. In the third song Beim Schlafengehen (When Falling Asleep) he explores the yearning for sleep and the solace it brings. In this particular recording I’m always taken aback by the astonishingly beautiful violin solo in the centre of the song.

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Beethoven String Quartet Op. 130 – V Cavatina

The sixteen String Quartets by Beethoven are amongst the greatest pieces of music ever written. From manic explosive energy to simplistic beauty, I think they encompass everything one could possibly want from music. I was so lucky to study with two professional string quartet players, Constantin Zanidache and Simon Aspell, who helped develop my curiosity for the quartet repertoire. In 2010 I was privileged to hear the complete Beethoven quartet cycle performed live in Cork by the Vanbrugh String Quartet, which left a huge impression on me. Since then, the Beethoven quartets have become an important part of my life.

Although difficult to pick just one, I’ve chosen the Cavatina movement from his String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major Op. 130. This movement was included on the Voyager spacecraft’s ‘golden record’, which was meant to represent mankind’s greatest accomplishments. I love the recording by the Guarneri String Quartet from 1970. It is richly expressive while at the same time fragile and sensitive, I find their playing very human and honest.

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Joni Mitchell – A Case of You (from the album Both Sides Now)

In 2000 Joni Mitchell recorded an album of her songs with orchestral arrangements by the American conductor/composer Vince Mendoza. This album creates a completely different atmosphere for Mitchell’s already great songs. The orchestral sound complements her now mellow and mature voice beautifully. I think these masterfully crafted arrangements bring out subtleties in her songs and guide them to take on an even greater poetic depth and nostalgic storytelling quality. The album deservedly won two Grammy Awards in 2001. My favourite track is A Case of You, and dare I say I prefer this version to her original 1971 record. The arranger Vince Mendoza conducted the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in 2014 to great acclaim, unfortunately, it was before I became a member! 

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Mozart String Quintet in C Major, K. 515

Although Mozart was a viola player, he unfortunately didn’t write any concerto or sonata for the instrument. We are, however, lucky the viola is needed for a wealth of his chamber music works and his wonderful Sinfonia Concertante for solo violin and viola.

His six string quintets, scored for string quartet with an extra viola, are masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire and some of my favourite works to perform and listen to. In my opinion it is difficult to surpass the recordings made of these by the legendary Amadeus String Quartet with violist Cecil Aronowitz. These performances have such personality, bubbling with energy while never losing the incredible quality and rich tone of the ensemble. The C Major Quintet K. 515 is such a bright, cheerful and uplifting work. It is full of character throughout with the most glorious of slow movements where the viola in particular gets a chance to shine.

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Hindemith Viola Sonata Op. 11 No. 4

Although a great composer, much of Hindemith’s music might not always be the most obvious choice for a desert island disc. Violists, however, can be thankful that he wrote a number of substantial works for the instrument which include one of my favourite sonatas, his Op. 11 No. 4 for Viola and Piano. Written in 1919, this sonata is full of beautiful lyrical content, fantasy and drama. At times impressionistic in style, the sonata is built around a number of themes and variations that carry the work to a powerful conclusion.

As a teenager I was hugely inspired by the Russian violist Yuri Bashmet, borrowing and collecting as many of his recordings as I could find. His recording of this work with pianist Sviatoslav Richter draws out beautiful tonal colours along with endless imagination for the music. Bashmet is such a unique violist and I think this recording is a great example of his artistry.

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Brahms Violin Concerto – Adagio

The violin is spoiled for choice with such an array of fantastic music by the greatest composers. Brahms wrote a single violin concerto and dedicated it to his friend, the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. Premiered in 1879, the concerto is today a staple of the violin repertoire. Like much of Brahms’ work, the concerto is full of substance and depth.

As a child, one of the first ‘classical music’ albums I remember listening to, bought by my Dad, was a Deutsche Grammophon recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter. The album combines a selection of violin works which includes the second movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto. I think this Adagio is one of the most beautiful compositions Brahms wrote. Following a pastoral-like opening by the wind section, the violin enters and floats above the orchestra with such expressive ease and beauty. It’s such openly affectionate music and one my favourite moments in Brahms’ rich output.

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Read more from Inside Tracks here.