Ethereal III: Reviews and Quotes

Ethereal III: Kevin Kastning & Sandor Szabo

Guitar innovator Kevin Kastning may be best known for his modern approach to acoustic, ambient guitar instrumental music, yet he’s also gaining acclaim for his mesmerizing piano albums. That piano side of Kevin Kastning is best explored on Ethereal III, the 2019 album by Kevin and fellow guitarist Sándor Szabó. Compared to Piano I, the early 2019 album of solo piano music by Kevin, the May 2019 release of Ethereal III features Kevin’s acoustic piano enhanced by computerized orchestrations by Sándor. The computerized orchestral sounds by Sándor is a great way to frame Kevin’s experimental acoustic piano music. Eschewing the popular orchestral software, on Ethereal III, Sándor incorporates recorded samples from real string instruments, which weren’t modified. Even though these string sounds are sampled, the idea seems to get around the idea of assembling various violins, cellos and double bass played by live musicians in the same room. Classical music purists may rebuff it at first, even though the modern day technology of editing samples into recordings is expedient and the net result, in this case, sounds quite excellent. Kevin and Sándor are true pioneers of the guitar world and on the release of Ethereal III, they also establish themselves as trendsetters in the world of 21st century recording technology. 

(5 out of 5 stars)

-- Roots Music Report (US)
   June 2019


 One thing you can expect with Kastning is the unexpected. After giving us a zillion guitar records where he never repeated himself, he threw a curve ball with a piano record. That was only the hors d'oureve. Now we find him tuning up his piano for an orchestral face off with one of his long time guitar partners in crime. Did you think this wouldn't be a mind blowing recital? Stretching the limits of contemporary classical, instrumental and left leaning jazz, these two hit it out of the park and take it some place entirely new and different. An amazing additional to the "Ethereal" series, this is a killer example of art that isn't artsy.
(Greydisc 3548)

-- Midwest Record (US)
   May 2019

Kevin Kastning: Ethereal III
Greydisc Records

Ethereal III, Kastning's latest collaboration with Szabó, also distances itself from their earlier releases, the former again exchanging guitar for piano and his partner, also guitar-less, credited with orchestration. The project represents Szabó's first foray into composing for a chamber orchestra, which in this instance involves one violin, eight cellos, and one double bass. The seed for the sixty-five-minute recording was planted earlier than the album in question, however. In late 2017 Szabó asked Kastning to record a pair of piano pieces that were subsequently wedded to digital cello samples the former had derived from the live playing of a cellist in Budapest; the resultant sonatas for piano and cello left such a mark on Kastning that when he and Szabó met to discuss what would become Ethereal III, they decided to continue with the approach used for the cello sonata pieces.

Kastning recorded his piano parts first, intentionally leaving room for the orchestral elements, after which Szabó used live recorded samples from real string instruments (as opposed to using standard orchestral software) to blend orchestration and keyboard. Representative settings such as “Lux Noctem Caligo I,” “Sic Claviculis aer Coelum,” and “Arcanus per Arcanum III” show what a remarkably convincing job Szabó did of making Kastning and the strings sound as if they recorded together live, though much the same could be said of any of the nine pieces. Szabó handled the incorporation of the orchestration judiciously, too; when adding his contributions, he was careful to leave moments for the piano to appear alone and not clutter the arrangements. The instrumentation naturally lends the material a classical character, even if the performances avoid adhering to a particular classical form and instead unfold with a sense of freedom. In contrast to the austerity of Piano I, Ethereal III presents a richly layered, ponderous, and often brooding soundworld where the piano and strings make for contrasting yet comfortably cohabiting partners. Needless to say, the presentation is vastly different from the other recordings the two have released together.

Incidentally, any Kastning devotees worried they might have heard the last of his guitar playing, Szabó's statement earlier this year that the two plan to record more chamber orchestral pieces, “including orchestral compositions with two guitars,” should lay that fear to rest.

- Textura Magazine (CANADA)
  May 2019

Kastning, Kevin/Sandor Szabo: Ethereal III

Having encountered a number of the vast catalogue of works by Contraguitarist Kevin Kastning (an instrument he designed), I have no hesitation in saying that his third Ethereal album alongside guitarist Sandor Szabo caught me completely off guard. Not only is Szabo credited as providing ‘orchestration’, but Kastning himself exclusively plays piano, meaning that an album which features two guitarists and no one else, actually contains not one moment of guitar playing. Incredibly it’s a masterstroke and one that, for someone who must admit to being an admirer of Kastning’s individual approach to music without really being too excited by the results, suddenly makes sense of the sounds that he creates.

Interestingly the parallels that can be drawn between Ethereal III and the two previous outings by the pair under this banner are much more clear than would maybe have been anticipated but while the ethos of sparse, tense forays where space is just as important as sound, continues unabated, there’s a willingness on the part of this album to allow you into its way of thinking much more readily. What that means for the supporters of Kastning’s previous work I’m not sure but I have no hesitation in admitting that I have found this album engaging in a way I really had not anticipated. Not that Ethereal III is easy listening, or hook led melodic fare. Nothing could be further from the truth but there’s a world built here that at least looks to beckon you onto its bare and foreboding landscape.
Pensive and never passive, from the opening atmospheres of “Lux Noctem Caligo I”, through the swoop and swipe of “Apertis et Tenebris” and right the way to the closing challenge of “Arcanus per Arcanum III”, Kastning and Szabo still insist that you check any reason for cheerful optimism at the door and immerse yourself in what is a harrowingly uncompromising experience. However, there are numerous payoffs along the way, most of which arrive through the ear-catching sparks of strings and angular piano permutations.
I can’t lie, the path taken by Kevin Kastning is never the easy one and even here on an accessible slice of his compositional output it remains austere and remote. Thankfully, at least for me, Ethereal III does cede just ever so slightly into allowing the less fervent followers of the man’s music into his way of thinking.

- Sea of Tranquility (CANADA)
  February 2020


I must say that “Ethereal III” might be my favorite of your albums… or at least one of them. Like I always say, the recording quality is superb. And the way your piano voice is so close to your guitar voice is remarkable and unique. Sandor’s orchestrations however rendered are beautiful. “Ethereal III” could be the music for something noir and cerebral. Anyway… bravo on another crystalline and enjoyable release.  Well done, man.

-- Mike Metheny (US)



Hello Kevin,

Thanks much my friend, I received your new CD a couple of days ago and I have listened trough it already twice and love it! Really great album throughout!  And I love the way you play the piano, it is very distinctive. The two of you really make a perfect team, can't wait for the next album!

Thank you, all the best,
-- Dieter Kaudel (US)
   K&K Pickups

"I've really been enjoying Ethereal III. The music speaks to me very directly, and I like where it takes me—both intellectually and emotionally. 
Of course, I'm also a sucker for titles imbued with alchemical aesthetics (whether intentionally or unintentionally)."

-- Barry Cleveland (US)

"I actually gave E3 a first spin yesterday while doing some emergency pre-tour drum repair out in my studio and enjoyed the dark, wintry Transylvanian vibe, varied occasionally by glimmers of spring sunlight through the heavy Carpathian skies. Cool stuff--will take it OTR with me for further listening in the Mobito Mobile Studio--it will be a refreshing counterpoint to the Southwestern desert heat and the repetitive rhythms of the road."

-- Will Clipman (US)



© 2019 Greydisc Records / Suigeneria Music [BMI]