Manto and Madrigals

Thomas Zehetmair, Ruth Killius


Violinist Thomas Zehetmair whose recent Paganini recording from St. Gerold met with overwhelming critical acclaim last year and violist Ruth Killius have shared many years as musical collaborators in the Zehetmair quartet. The couple’s spectacular duo performance at last autumn’s ECM festival in Mannheim raised the expectactions for their new programme, a carefully composed anthology of contemporary pieces for violin and viola. Next to Bohuslav Martinů’s virtuosic and accessible “Madrigals”, written in 1946 in American exile, the central piece here is “Drei Skizzen” by Heinz Holliger, a triptychon with the instruments tuned in the scordatura of Mozart’s fomous “Sinfonia concertante” for violin, viola and orchestra. It was commissioned by the duo as an encore piece for their frequent renderings of Mozart’s masterworks on the concert platform. Its first movement “Pirouetts harmoniques” is entirely based on shimmering harmonics, whereas the second one is an exuberant perpetuum mobile. The cycle concludes with a six-part chorale that requires both string players to hum an extra voice. This idea, which is realised by the duo to a most stunning effect effect, was itself inspired by Giancinto Scelsi’s solo piece “Manto” for a “singing viola player”. The programme is complemented by compositions by Nikos Skalkottas, Béla Bartók and short pieces by Rainer Killius and Johannes Nied.

Featured Artists Recorded

May 2009, Radio Studio DRS, Zürich

Original Release Date


  • 1Ó min flaskan friða
    (Rainer Killius)
  • Manto
    (Giacinto Scelsi)
  • 2I04:08
  • 3II03:58
  • 4III02:50
  • Drei Skizzen
    (Heinz Holliger)
  • 5I Pirouettes harmoniques04:04
  • 6II Danse dense01:30
  • 7III Cantique à six voix04:56
  • 8Duo (1902)
    (Béla Bartók)
  • Duo
    (Nikos Skalkottas)
  • 9I Allegro vivo01:15
  • 10II Andante01:58
  • 11III Ben ritenuto02:36
  • 12Midhouse Air (1996)
    (Peter Maxwell Davies)
  • Three Madrigals
    (Bohuslav Martinů)
  • 13I Poco allegro03:56
  • 14II Poco andante04:24
  • 15III Allegro05:10
  • 16Zugabe (2004)
    (Johannes Nied)
One quickly learns to ignore dates and savor instead the fluidity of musical time, as modern scores by Davies, Scelsi and Killius evoke the past and older works by Martinu and Bartok sound strikingly prescient. ZehetmaIR AND Killius make a powerful team, adapting smartly to their fluctuating program while observing the highest technical standards. Grade: A.
Cleveland plain dealer
Betörende Süße, welke Fahlheit und grelle Schärfe, all dies steht dem Geigenton von Zehetmair im Wechsel souverän zur Verfügung, auch ist er ein Interpret, der es liebt, mit vielen Stimmen zu sprechen. Zu seiner Unabhängigkeit vom Musikmarkt und dessen mächtigen Apparaten trägt die Vorliebe für kleine und Kleinst-Besetzungen bei, sei es im Streichquartett oder im Duo mit seiner Frau, der Bratscherin Ruth Kilius. [...]
Der Klang der beiden Instrumente wirkt in dieser Aufnahme ganz nah und unmittelbar, ohne mystischen Hallraum. Doch was sie spielen, das ist geprägt vom schönen Reiz des Fremden und der Weite, von Zeit und Raum, es sind intime Erzählungen, in denen die Hierarchie von Vertrautem und Unvertrautem alsbald verschwindet.
Martin Wilkening, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
This brilliant project by Zehetmair and Killius models continuity across the ages. One quickly learns to ignore dates and savor instead the fluidity of musical time, as modern scores by Davies, Scelsi and Killius evoke the past and older works by Martinu and Bartok sound strikingly prescient.
The plain dealer
Over the last decade, the husband and wife team of Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius have been heard together on ECM New Series as members of the Zehetmair Quartet, in outstanding – and prize-winning – recordings of Schumann, Bartók, Hindemith and Hartmann. “Manto and Madrigal”, however, is the first documentation of a duo recital programme which the violinist and violist have been developing in concert for several years.

Recorded at Zurich’s radio studio DRS in May 2009, the album “Manto and Madrigal” is a stunning tour of modern music. As Paul Grifiths writes in the liner notes, “The instruments dazzle, dance and declaim, play games with one another”. Relationships between the pieces and between the instruments are explored in compositions that range from Scelsi’s dissonant and microtonal journey toward the mystic core of music making – with Killius as singer as well as viola soloist – to duo pieces that incorporate elements, archaic or playful, from regional music. There is very early Bartók here, and music of Schoenberg’s sole Greek pupil Skalkottas. There are three sketches by Heinz Holliger, written especially for Zehetmair and Killius, playful madrigals by Martinů, a piece by Maxwell Davies refracting folk music of the Orkney islands, and an encore provided by the performers’ friend Johannes Nied (last heard on ECM as bass player on Holliger’s “Beiseit” album).

Griffiths: “They arrive as if from out of a distant past: two instruments playing together in fifths, and thereby producing an austere consonance reminiscent of ancient ways of harmonizing a melody, as found in some of the earliest notated music and also in surviving Icelandic folk practices, which Rainer Killius follows at the opening of his arrangement of ‘Ó mín flaskan friða (…) More than a historical aura makes the fifth an appropriate centre of gravity in this context—between the parts and soon within each one (...) The fifth defines and separates; it is by this interval that one string or one instrument is higher or lower. But the fifth also connects and relates, two notes a fifth apart being consonant together and close in harmonic meaning. What divides is also what binds.”