"Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi's Chiacona – review

When the Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen turned 50 in 2010, his wife, Muriel von Braun, and the composer Kaija Saariaho invited 30 composers whose works Karttunen had played to write variations on the Chiacona by Giuseppe Colombi, often regarded as the earliest piece composed for the cello. None of the composers knew who else was contributing, and Karttunen committed to performing them all sight unseen. The order of these Mystery Variations is his own; the shortest pieces last just over a minute, while one takes over five. The oldest composer represented is Betsy Jolas (born in 1926) and the youngest Ryan Wigglesworth (born 1979); though, as you'd expect, a high proportion of Finns is on the list, there's a truly international spread of names, from Argentina (Martin Matalon) to Norway (Rolf Wallin), the Czech Republic (Miroslav Srnka) to China (Tan Dun). Gathered together, the miniatures make a comprehensive and enjoyable compendium of contemporary cello techniques, in pieces that may stick close to the theme, or bear little relationship to it all; however they come, though, Karttunen plays them with his usual unflappable mastery."


The Guardian, Andrew Clemens

"Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona

A celebratory work that provides multiple responses to solo cello writing


In this composite work written to celebrate the 50th birthday in 2010 of Anssi Karttunen, 30 composers have each contributed a variation on the Chiacona by Giuseppe Colombi (1635–94). The title ‘Mystery Variations’ reflects the fact that the composers had no knowledge of who else was contributing, and that Karttunen had agreed to play the set before he knew the roster himself.


It’s a testament to Karttunen’s vast repertoire that so many composers with whom he has worked are represented here, and there are some surprises, including the young Brit Ryan Wigglesworth, American composer and theorist Fred Lerdahl and Argentinean Martin Matalon. His fellow Nordics include the Finns Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg (who closes the set), Kaija Saariaho, Jukka Tiensuu and Paavo Heininen, and the Swede Anders Hillborg.


The variety here is mind-boggling – from Matalon’s waspish, steely coloured ‘Polvo’ (Dust), employing a metal mute, to Tan Dun’s largely strummed offering in which the word ‘chaconne’ is declaimed; and from Vinko Globokar’s left-hand-only ‘Idée fixe’ (also with vocal intervention) to Colin Matthews’s ‘Drammatico’, which includes a low rumbling electronic part. The recording quality is exemplary and Karttunen’s virtuosity and versatility are clearly on show, but so too is his shining, beautifully clean tone. A must for anyone curious to hear what 30 modern minds can subject a cello to."

The Strad, Edward Bhesania


"Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona, on Toccata Classics

For Anssi Karttunen’s 50th birthday in 2010, his wife, Muriel von Braun, and his dear friend, acclaimed composer Kaija Saariaho, decided to give him an unconventional present. They gathered a group of composers who Karttunen had worked with and admires, and commissioned them each to write a short piece based on Giuseppe Colombi’s “chiacona” for solo cello. The composers featured on the album have an age range of 50 years from oldest (Betsy Jolas) to youngest (Ryan Wigglesworth), and hail from eleven countries across four continents. They represent a wide range of styles, but their work on this album is held together by inspiration, instrumentation, and of course, Anssi Karttunen’s distinctive playing style.

Colombi’s chiacona was written in the 17th century, and sounds a lot like the music of his Baroque contemporaries. It begins with a simple repetition of one note that falls into a melody which becomes the bass line for the rest of the piece. It then develops into a section with spritely, galloping scales, and goes through a few more transformations with chords and even faster moving scalar patterns before returning home to the original melody. The chiacona, a traditional baroque dance form, is defined by this structure. In this way, chiaconas are traditionally musings on a single idea, much like a theme and variations. By including the work of so many composers on the album, each deriving inspiration from this one piece as their theme, Karttunen’s birthday team created a sort of meta chiacona – or at least a large scale form of theme and variations, where the Colombi theme is a theme and variations in and of itself.

The real interest in the Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona is in seeing how the different composers chose to treat this assignment. Some of them took the more literal route and quoted whole phrases directly from the original, or utilized baroque sounding harmonies or imitative styles. But most of them latched on to one distinctive element, such as the dotted rhythmic pattern, note repetition, chordal motion, or melodic shape, and played with transforming and developing that idea as a motif. The order that the short variations are presented in the album (which Karttunen decided on after seeing them all completed) tends to favor contrast – slow is followed by fast, loud is followed by soft, etc. The order also tends not to put two composers next to each other who are concerned with the same element of the original.

Some of the more successful variations come from the composers who were creative in their use of the original chiacona’s thematic material. Perhaps my favorite piece on the album comes from Tan Dun, who incorporated vocalization of the word “chaccone” (the French form of the Italian word “chiacona”) in a rhythmic chant over strummed chords. The other composer who utilized vocalization to great success is Vinko Globokar, whose contribution “Idée Fixe” creates a counterpoint between the instrument and the performer’s voice. Globokar treats the cello mostly as a percussive instrument through hitting, scratching, and plucking sounds, with Karttunen’s voice humming fragments of the original Colombi melody and providing the only lyrical melodic material. At first, it seems as if the humming is stuck in Karttunen’s head, but it quickly grows in volume and becomes the primary voice as the cello fades into accompaniment. Other notable contributions on the album come from Roger Reynolds, Steven Stucky, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Edmund Campion, Pablo Ortiz, Luca Francesconi, Gualtiero Dazzi, and Kaija Saariaho.

Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona is one of the more interesting solo albums I’ve heard in a long time. Karttunen’s virtuosic ability is a pleasure to listen to, and he couldn’t have collected a more interesting and capable group of composers to write for him. But there are lots of great soloists, and lots of great composers. What sets this album apart is the concept. Each variation provides a small window into its composer’s personality; it highlights the ways in which their brains work. Part of the fun of listening to the album is in identifying the ways in which each composer related to the original Colombi theme. Through examining Colombi’s chiacona through the eyes of contemporary composers, the old becomes infinitely more relevant and interesting, and the new becomes grounded in history."

www.icareifyoulisten.com, Marina Kifferstein

"Anssi Karttunen: Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi's Chiacona

Qui saura rendre vie à la chaconne de Colombi? Réponse dans ses Mystery Variations que l'on peut aborder comme une série policière en trente épisodes, saga d'un anniversaire (les 50 ans de Anssi Karttunen) que trente compositeurs ont été appelés à célébrer par une variation de leur cru. Pourvue d'un profil assez anonyme pour se fondre dans la foule des solos trépassés à l'épreuve du temps, la chaconne de cet Italien du XVII siècle constitue le thème idéal pour un investigation creative. Les réussites sont d'ailleurs nombreuses, dans le genre "affaire non classée" (Denis Cohen), ou dans le procédé "prélèvement d'ADN" (Pascal Dusapin). Toutefois, seule Betsy Jolas semble élaborer son oeuvre avec des gestes inspirés autant par la référence baroque que par la jeu moderne (Karttunen).

Le Monde, Pierre Gervasoni




 
"...The cello concerto “Tout un monde lointain”, composed for and premiered by Rostropovich in 1970, is a modern classic of both iridescent color and interwoven thematic ideas. No virtuoso display piece, it still makes considerable demands on the soloist, which Anssi Karttunen handles with great eloquence...."

The Boston Globe, David Weininger

"...One other correspondence, or connection, is between Dutilleux and the late, great Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom he wrote the cello piece, “Tout un Monde Lointain”, which is here played by Anssi Karttunen. Rostropovich is more soulful in individual passages and is more closely recorded, but Karttunen has a better sense of the piece overall..."

www.wbur.org, Boston, Ed Siegel

"...Tout un monde lointain, originally written for Mstislav Rostropovich, shares something of Boulez’s ascetic ritual but a sense of harmonic tease and timbral patina clearly rebounds out of the Ravel of Daphnis et Chloé and Mother Goose. Something else is going on too, though. Dutilleux’s music is secret, the music of introspection, music that develops by crossing itself out as it inches forwards. Fanfares emerge requiring an answer. Silence. Pockets of melodic intensity arrive unannounced – Dutilleux sure knows how to make a cello sing – but stop abruptly. A single moment of representational sound-painting, bells toll and sea birds sing, melts back into the faraway distance. Dutilleux turning a corner from reality; the whole picture obscured, leaving imaginations to plug the gaps. 

Rostropovich’s own performance is still readily available, but Anssi Karttunen and Esa-Pekka Salonen come at this clandestine score with a cooler head and a keener architectural ear..."

www.sinfinimusic.com, Philip Clark

"...Le Concerto "Tout un monde lointain" n’est pas neuf au disque. Esa-Pekka Salonen et le violoncelliste finlandais Anssi Karttunen s’y montrent inspirés. Il y a là un lyrisme à fleur de peau, comme une pudeur rentrée qui éclate de temps à autre en incandescences subites. Si Rostropovitch avait une sonorité prodigieusement dense et éruptive dans son enregistrement avec Serge Baudo pour EMI, Anssi Karttunen se fond davantage à l’orchestre. Il fait preuve d’une riche musicalité...."

Le Temps, Geneve, Julien Sykes


"...Rostropovich commissioned Dutilleux’s Cello Concerto “Tout un Monde Lointain” (Whole Distant World) in 1970. Each of its five sections have a description attached, taken from epigraphs of Baudelaire. “Enigma” is a theme and variations that begins mysteriously and builds to a slow sacrificial dance. “Gaze” induces the listener under a spell of ghostly and amorphously beautiful music. “Sea Swells” is a swirling and animated dialogue between the cello and orchestra – especially winds and percussion.  “Mirrors” shimmers and glistens – the cello weaves plaintive melodies punctuated by percussion and pensively reflective violins. “Hymn” is rhythmically robust, summarizing the work as it trails into the mist.  Clearly, this is one of the most important cello concertos of the twentieth century and Anssi Karttunen is an excellent soloist...."

Audiophile Audition, Robert Moon

"Kaleidoscope of instrumental hues

A new recording of cerebral creations by Henri Dutilleux 'glows and shimmers with colour'


During the 1970s, Rostropovich made a remarkable recording of the cello concerto included on this disc, and a "rosette" rating awarded by the Penguin Guide, then a bible for many classical record collectors, drew listeners outside of France to Serge Baudo's recording of Dutilleux's First Symphony some years later. But, in general, Dutilleux was marginalised by the fashionability among academics and intimidated critics of the more extreme styles of the then-avant-garde. ...


...Soprano Hannigan is magnificent here, soaring through the shifting spectrum of the orchestral texture at the top of her range and concluding brilliantly on a high D, attacked deadon right at the centre of the note. This new account of the cello concerto is less rhetorical as an interpretation and better balanced as a recording than the classic Rostropovich/Baudo version, although that performance remains irreplaceable."

Bangkok Post

 

CD Reviews

2012-2013

 


"The common denominators in this collection of Magnus Lindberg's recent chamber music (all four works composed since 2000) are the cello playing of Anssi Karttunen and the pianism of Lindberg, with the clarinettist Kari Kriikku joining them for the Trio of 2008. The other three works were composed for recitals that Karttunen and Lindberg gave together. The six-movement Partia (an old spelling of "partita") is modelled on baroque forms, beginning with a sinfonia and ending with a gigue; Dos Coyotes is a cello-and-piano arrangement of the 1990s ensemble piece Coyote Blues, while Santa Fe Project is a three-movement duo that seems designed not only to display the virtuosity of Karttunen's playing but also the approachability of Lindberg's most recent music. Nevertheless, it's the trio that seems the most substantial work here. Its three movements, the first almost as long as the other two put together, are headed with quotations from the Finnish poet Gunnar Björling, and the music seems to combine Lindberg's newly acquired expressive generosity with the harmonic logic and lucidity that's always been characteristic of his work."

The Guardian, Andrew Clements


"Magnus Lindberg has often claimed the orchestra as his instrument. This statement, however, is somewhat misleading in that he has composed a good deal of piano music as well as a number of chamber works, some of which have been available in various recordings. The release under review centres on his chamber works for cello. Interestingly, too, all but one of these works are fairly recent, composed between 2001 and 2008. 


If taken chronologically, the earliest here is Dos Coyotes which is a reworking rather than an arrangement of a somewhat earlier work for ensemble Coyote Blues (1993). Originally the work was intended as a piece for voice and ensemble commissioned by the Rikskonserter agency in Sweden. Lindberg did not then feel ready for a vocal work and rather suggested an instrumental piece which became Coyote Blues. In this he incorporated material used in a work for the Tapiola Choir some time earlier. Much later still, the material was reworked by Karttunen and the composer with a new title. This lovely work is a good example of Lindberg's accessible, often melodic idiom as found in his recent music. 


The Partia for Cello Solo was composed for the Turku Cello Competition. As may be expected the music is devised so as to exploit most, if not all, the expressive and technical possibilities of the instrument. It avoids falling into the trap of pure and vain virtuosity. The music is certainly technically demanding but the whole remains musically rewarding. As may be guessed too, the lay-out overtly looks back to similar suites by Bach and by some contemporary composers such as Jolivet.  


Incidentally, Dos Coyotes has also been used as a general title for duo performance given by Karttunen and Lindberg, where Lindberg has revived his career as a performing pianist. The Santa Fe Project was composed for them to a commission from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the La Jolla Summer Festival. This delightful work may be experienced as a sort of compact cello sonata consisting of three concise and contrasted movements played without a break. Again, the music is typical of Lindberg's melodic and colourful writing although - as might be expected - it is still demanding from the purely technical point of view. It, too, receives a superbly committed reading. 


“After the innumerable pieces he had written for my cello, for Kari's clarinet and for himself at the piano, a trio for all three of us was all that was missing” (Anssi Karttunen). The Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano is not only the most recent work here but also the most substantial. Each of the three movements bears a heading borrowed from the poetry of Gunnar Björling: Sound big, sound; Like the tranquillity we seek and Crash wave, crash respectively. It is not necessary to know any of Björling's poetry to be able to appreciate Lindberg's work. These headings hint sufficiently at the character of each movement but do not imply any programmatic intent. The first movement opens in an almost improvisatory manner in the bass register of the piano but the music soon opens up with the successive entries for the cello and later the clarinet. The ensuing dialogue develops roughly as an arch rising to a climax. The second movement is slow with an animated central section functioning as a Scherzo. The final movement opens with a slow introduction leading straight into a mostly lively and animated main section. It ends with a broad, appeased coda. This is a superb piece in which Lindberg allows his inner lyricism full rein. 


The performances are immaculate and fully committed and again very well recorded. I also want to mention Kimmo Korhonen's excellent insert notes from which I have generously quoted. 


All in all, this is a magnificent release that is a must for all Lindberg fans but should also appeal to anyone who enjoys accessible and warmly expressive contemporary music."


www.musicweb-international.com, Hubert Culot

 


"Ondine has already recorded a good deal of Saariaho's orchestral music as well as works for ensemble. These various discs were first released separately and later re-issued in a boxed set. In the meantime another disc with orchestral works was released more recently still (ODE 1173-2) and reviewed here. Now Ondine sets forth with a disc devoted to some of her chamber music and in particular to her five trios for various combinations. The connecting element is the cello which is present in all five of them. Moreover all but one of these trios are fairly recent since they were composed between 2003 and 2009, the exception being the somewhat earlier Cendres for alto flute, cello and piano composed in 1998. Incidentally this work is the only one that has been recorded earlier on Kairos 0012414KAI. All the others are first recordings. 


As already mentioned Cendres was composed in 1998 using some material from … à la fumée (1990) for alto flute, cello and orchestra. It is in no way a chamber arrangement of that work. As Kimmo Korhonen rightly states in his well-informed insert notes, this is definitely a new work based on existing material. This is not unusual in Saariaho's music: she fairly often uses or “recycles” material from other works of hers. The music often makes use of more or less advanced techniques such as key clicks and breathing noises in the flute part and some playing inside the piano but never extravagantly. The ultimate aim of Saariaho's music is to achieved expression and sonic refinement. Indeed from early on in her career she succeeded in using “noised sounds” very often as a springboard for further flights of fancy. 


Mirage exists in two versions composed simultaneously: an orchestral one (Ondine ODE 1130-2) and a chamber version for soprano, cello and piano recorded here. The piece is based on fragments of spells uttered in a trance by a Mexican shaman, Maria Sabina. The roughly ritualistic character of these words obviously appealed to Saariaho, allowing her to indulge her imaginative sound-world. To be quite frank, I thought, having heard the orchestral version, that the so-called chamber version could be a disappointment but I am glad to say that I have been proved completely wrong. I should not have had qualms about the composer's remarkable imagination. In the orchestral version both soprano and cello play as soloists in what amounts to a double concerto where the trio version has them engaging in a chamber-music dialogue with the piano. I eventually found the chamber version as satisfying as the orchestral one and I would not want to be without it. 


Cloud Trio for string trio is probably the one work here that comes as close as possible to a normal trio setting. That said, there is nothing overtly traditional in the music. The piece is said to have been inspired by ever-changing clouds observed in the French Alps although; clouds have often been a source of inspiration to composers. The work falls into four movements of which the outer ones are rather on the slow and meditative side whereas the inner ones are more animated and at times quite troubled. As a whole this is quite satisfying, again full of imaginative string writing. It’s a successful mix of 'noised sounds' and normal sounds that without being in any way descriptive suggest both the rugged mountainous landscapes and the sometimes unpredictable gliding of cloud formations. I sometimes felt that the music called for a larger ensemble and I would not be surprised if Saariaho was to make a version for string orchestra ’ere too long. 


Je sens un deuxième coeur for the somewhat darker piano trio setting of viola, cello and piano was written when the composer was working on her opera Adriana Mater. In fact, the title of the piece is a quote from that work. The five movements more or less relate to the opera. It is interesting to know that Saariaho originally planned to create portraits of the four characters in the opera but eventually abandoned the idea on musical grounds. Although the music is still fairly abstract, its character and different moods are clearly related to the context of the opera: war in the former Yugoslavia. It is a really beautiful work in which the composer allows her inborn lyricism to speak in utter freedom. I would not hesitate inviting you to listen to this wonderful piece first, especially if you are not all that familiar with Saariaho's strongly personal sound-world. 


The final work here is again structured as a suite of sorts with the slight difference being that the five movements may be played in any order. For myself, I cannot imagine them being played in a different order from the one applied here. As such the lay-out in this recording makes for a logical narration, from a delicate opening to a mysterious conclusion. It may be interesting to know that some of the material is derived from both Mirage and the cello concerto Notes on Light (2006). As with Cendres, you have to be a Saariaho expert to spot this. This work shows the composer at her most engaging. 


Over the years there have been some ground-breaking works. I would just mention Verblendungen (1982/4) for orchestra and tape and Lichtbogen (1985/6) for ensemble and tape. These put her firmly on the map. Since then Saariaho has ceaselessly refined and enlarged her instrumental and expressive palette. This has included spectral harmonies and other techniques. She is now well and truly master of her aims and means. Her music has acquired a remarkable subtlety and sonic refinement that is her trademark. 


These performances by musicians having a close working association with the composer are ideal. They are also superbly served by Ondine's beautiful recording. Full marks, too, for Kimmo Korhonen's excellent insert notes. This well-filled release is an important addition to Saariaho's ever-growing discography and a must for all devotees of her music. 


www.musicweb-international.com, Hubert Culot


 

"This is the kind of disc that makes the most jaded listener sit up straight and pay attention: marvellous music, compellingly performed and beautifully produced. Record companies must spend ever-increasing effort trying to unearth repertoire that is both rare and important. The musical treasure-hunters at Toccata can give themselves a pat on the back: they have hit musical gold with this disc.

 

How wonderful to be able to listen with completely fresh ears to two of Brahms’ greatest chamber works. Personally, I had no idea that either the Piano Quintet Op.34 or the heart-breakingly beautiful Clarinet Quintet Op.115 existed in any other – legitimate – versions yet that is precisely what we have here. The history of the work we know as the Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34 is rather convoluted. It started out as a double cello quintet as reconstructed here. The unsure Brahms sought Joachim’s opinion but first reworked it as a double piano sonata – in which form it was published – before finally arriving at the piano quintet version we know today. The original version was destroyed by its hard-to-please composer so the reconstruction here by Anssi Karttunen, cellist in the Zebra String Trio, is conjectural. His is not the first attempt to allow this piece to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of its composer’s insecurities: Sebastian Brown published a version in 1947 but this is the first recording of Karttunen’s version. Malcolm MacDonald provides an excellent essay – the term liner note simply does not do it justice – outlining the genesis and structure of both works. He makes the key point that Brahms in the 1860s was very much in the thrall of Schubert’s chamber masterpieces and the great double cello quintet in particular. Listening to both versions of the quintet you can understand why Brahms felt compelled to ‘expand’ the instrumentation and use a piano to add contrast and weight to a piece that is so big both in terms of structure and aspiration. Conversely it is wonderful to hear this music using one single family of instruments. This allows for an equality of timbre and texture that somehow allows the structure and musical material to be more instantly apparent. Add to that a group of performers of the highest technical and musical standing and you are in for a performance that is as pleasurable as it is revelatory. I had not heard of the Zebra string trio as an ensemble but the players who make it up are well known. To their ranks are added some of Britain’s finest chamber players – very much a gathering of friends and kindred spirits I sense. The result is as exciting a disc of chamber music as I have heard this year.

 

Rather than being daunted by the ‘lack’ of a piano the players here fling themselves with extraordinary dynamism into the stormy world of the quintet. It is a performance that pays the occasional nod towards modern performance practice. Vibrato is pared away and textures are allowed to stand chillingly bare when required. This is allied to an approach willing to take musical and technical risks. There is a sense of spontaneity and thrusting energy that sweeps away momentary concerns of perfect ensemble or tuning in return for a tangible spirit of discovery and reinvention. Out of curiosity I compared a version of the piano quintet which I enjoy a lot – the Nash Ensemble on CRD. Theirs is a pleasingly traditional approach and very well played too but in the expanded Zebra Trio’s hands it appears as a more modern and questing work.

 

If the performance of the piano quintet challenges preconceptions then the performance of the clarinet quintet in the composer’s own version for double viola quintet is simply a great performance regardless of version or instrumentation. Whereas the earlier work required of the transcriber complex revoicings and redistribution of the musical material the Clarinet Quintet simply alters the wind part to lie more conveniently for stringed instruments. This has always been one of my very favourite works by Brahms – the fires of the earlier quintet have dimmed and where previously passions blazed now they are expressed with a far gentler range of elegiac emotions. The homogeneity of the string sound which was interesting in the Op.34 quintet is even more effective here. There is a remarkable grace and unaffected beauty to the playing here that is simply superb. All the players contribute to this for sure but special praise must go to the lead viola playing of Steven Dann. This is without doubtsome of the finest viola playing I have heard in a long long time. The mechanics of the instrument mean that it is technically very hard to produce on that instrument the kind of sweet unforced lyricism that is second nature to the violin or even the cello. Yet, given where the tessitura of this part lies that is exactly what is required of the player. Dann is able to make his instrument sing with such gentle purity that I find myself struggling for adjectives or superlatives to do it justice. Although I absolutely adore the original ‘proper’ version the substitution of a string instrument – in the right hands! – suddenly brings secondary expressive benefits. The viola has two technical tools in its armoury not available to a clarinettist; vibrato and portamenti. All of the players make subtle and judicious use of vibrato in particular but Dann’s playing is a master-class in its full expressive potential. Some may prefer the chaste purity of a clarinet. Personally I do not feel anyone has bettered the now-venerable recording from Alfred Boskovsky and members of the Vienna Octet on Decca. Dann’s performance, regardless of the medium is right up there with the finest of the fine. Without any sense of affectation or over-phrasing Dann plays with a subtle sense of rhythmic elasticity that I find entrancing. Another side-benefit of the all-string ensemble is that issues of balance and integration are largely self-solving. As with the Op.34 the structural integrity of the work is revealed. This will never replace the original version of this true masterpiece and neither should it. Conversely I would be very surprised if this did not appear in more concert programmes. It seems like an obvious companion to the quintets by Mozart et al with the cost benefit to promoters of not requiring an additional player for a single piece.

 

Huge credit to Toccata Classics for instigating this disc. For a relatively small company they have one of the most interesting and challenging release schedules – the two volumes of Havergal Brian Orchestral works are my personal favourites among many. As mentioned before this is a very fine release on production terms as well. The Music Room at Champs Hill is proving to be a popular and successful recording venue. Once again Michael Ponder as both engineer and producer has recorded a disc of demonstration quality. I suspect as a fine viola player himself he enjoyed sitting in the control room listening to the music-making in the hall. Even the type of paper used for the liner is of high quality! If the future of classical recorded music is in as much jeopardy as some would have you believe than it is dependent upon those who produce new material to ensure that quality of the product made is such that quibbles regarding format, price and content fall away. Toccata Classics deserve every jot of financial and artistic success they get from this release; to my mind it is of award-winning calibre. Excitingly, it is called “Volume 1” and the MacDonald essay refers to the similar transcription Brahms did to his Clarinet Trio which is promised for Volume 2. I have not heard all of the other version of the Op.115 released in January 2011 by violist Maxim Rysanov on the Onyx label. That is intelligently coupled with the ‘proper’ Op.111 quintet as well as two songs for voice, piano and viola Op.91. What I have heard leads me to think Rysanov prefers a more romanticised interventionist approach. This disc is a near-certainty for my discs of the year list and one to which I will be returning often and with pleasure once the reviewer’s pen is put to one side.

 

www.musicweb-international.com, Nick Barnard

 


This disc was first inspired in 2000 (according to the notes) when Pablo Ortiz played a recording of improvisations by Aníbal Troilo and Astor Piazzolla on “Volver” and “El Motivo.” Alas, although the notes seem to be in the first person, the booklet does no say which of the trio members wrote them, but in the paragraph on El Choclo (a famous tango that, in the 1950s, provided the basis for the pop tune “Kiss of Fire”), it says “My transcription is based on a wonderfully dry and straight reading by Roberto Firpo,” and since cellist Anssi Karttunen is listed as co-composer, my detective work is complete. He wrote the notes.


The performance of this famous tune is full of dry but humorous touches, thus setting the pace for the entire album. These are Latin pieces rearranged for strings—sometimes the Zebra Trio intact, at other times different components of them or Karttunen with two other cellists—in very original and imaginative ways. As you will notice, several of these works were composed and/or arranged by Ortiz. The Zebra Trio, and its component members, do a splendid job of “playing around” with this music, doing virtually everything shot of actual improvisation on this music. Several non-Latin rhythms are used in their discourse, which add more interest and color to the arrangements. I was particularly taken by their use of bitonal harmonies in certain works, such as the agitated section of Ortiz’s and all the phonies go mad with joy. Karttunen describes “Nocturna” as “the one piece on the CD that really cannot be called sad,” but I don’t hear all the other pieces as sad. The first of Ortiz’s Trois tangos en marge, titled “corn alone won’t do,” again returns us to clashing seconds and bitonal harmonics while the second turns a Finnish tango and turns it into a cheerful milonga. Karttunen has arranged José Aguilar’s Tengo miedo for violin and cello, creating an unusual dialogue with a “hole” in the middle, emphasizing the two extremes of range, whereas Ortiz’s el jefe is for viola and cello.


Most of the remainder of the CD consists of various arrangements for three cellos, including the second version of Arolas’s El Marne, are all rather interesting, the second version of El Marne being particularly light and joyful, but I personally felt that the solo cello version of Nostalgias was a bit lugubrious. There was also, to my ears, a sameness of both key and rhythm in most of the three-cello pieces presented here, however ingeniously scored or well played, but taken individually many of them are quite interesting.


Overall, then, an interesting disc. If you are a fan of tangos and milongas played by string instruments, and don’t mind half the disc being given over to a cello trio, you will certainly be fascinated by it.

Fanfare, Lynn René Bayley