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Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona
Anssi Karttunen (cello)
rec. 2011-12, Studio M2, Yleisradio, Helsinki
Track-listing below
TOCCATA TOCC 0171 [79:57]

Cellist Anssi Karttunen’s 50th birthday was the trigger for the commissioning of a raft of new works, each a variation for solo cello on the Chiacona per basso solo by Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694). Conjecturally this is one of the earliest - maybe the earliest - work for cello. What we have therefore is a sheaf of thirty works from a wide variety of composers, and the 31st piece is the starting point for the project, Colombi’s Chiacona itself. None of the composers knew who else was working on the project - though the cellist has worked on the music of all of them, hence their invitations. Karttunen himself agreed to play the pieces before he’d received them, which explains the disc’s title, Mystery Variations. I’m indebted to Toccata for this concise précis.
There’s tremendous variety in the thirty; also tremendous variety in the names of the composers, as the track-listing demonstrates. Each piece is full of aural interest, often pithily expressed and equally pithily titled. Few pieces linger; many hover around the minute-and-a-half mark. Jouni Kaipainen follows on from the Colombi itself, following its texture and structure quite closely in his personalized voice. Martin Matalon’s Polvo requires the use of a metal mute and the results are slithery and taut. Much longer but internally terse and fragmentary is Roger Reynolds’ Colombi Daydream. Jukka Tiensuu offers, in effect, a pizzicato study whilst tremolo and descant patterns are the preferred choice of Steven Stucky. Esa-Pekka Salonen is typically formidable, whilst there’s brief but dramatic collage contribution from Edmund Campion.
Restlessness and off-kilter sliding is evinced in Rolf Wallin’s Ciacconetta but hints of expressive intensity are offered by Pablo Ortiz. Anders Hillborg seems to reference Bach, specifically the solo cello suites and Fred Lerdahl visits the Baroque in a collage statement. There’s some strikingly sonorous intensity from Veli-Matti Puumala, and the brittle contrasts generate their own longer-breathed sense of repose. One of the most exciting pieces is Kimmo Hakola’s fantasy piece, Colombi variation. Tan Dun prefers elements of chinoiserie in his pizzicati and instructs the cellist to shout ‘Chaconne’- dutifully thus performed by Karttunen. I admit I find it all a bit embarrassing to hear musicians being asked to shout, sing or otherwise emote when playing.
Joji Yuasa sounds rather more etude-like in his contribution, cast in 12-tone. Ryan Wigglesworth, born in 1979, is the youngest of the composers and generates quiet intensity. Electronics are introduced by Colin Matthews who gets the cello to play rather argumentatively above; plenty of virtuosity is required. Kaija Saariaho’s evocative glissandi and tremolandi are a pleasure to encounter and Vinko Globokar goes one step beyond by limiting the cellist to his left hand only; a Wittgensteinian move that leads to a late night session feel with singing along (oh dear) and taps on the cello’s body. Gualtiero Dazzi offers the most sombre of all the pieces, plunging us into a Black Pearl variation - if we can allude to the Goldberg Variations. Tapio Tuomela lightens the mood with a gloriously deft Idulla , ushering in the oldest composer represented, Betsy Jolas, born in 1926, and who still has a witty way about her - A Fancy for Anssi is her piece’s title. Luca Francesconi offers a free fantasia along tangentially baroque lines, before Magnus Lindberg’s Duetto ends the sequence on a note of high drama.
Vital, various and played with astonishing command of idioms, this is a beacon of new music for the solo cello.
Jonathan Woolf  
Track listing
Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694) Chiacona [2:05]
Jouni Kaipainen (b.1956) Anything Goes [2:28]
Martin Matalon (b.1958) Polvo [1:05]
Roger Reynolds (b.1934) Colombi Daydream [5:54]
Denis Cohen (b.1952) Chaconne [3:30]
Jukka Tiensuu (b 1948) Leuelein [3:36]
Steven Stucky (b.1949) Partita sopra un basso [1:26]
Esa-Pekka Salonen (b.1958) Sarabande per un Coyote [2:32]
Edmund Campion (b.1957) Something to Go On [1:36]
Rolf Wallin (b.1957) Ciacconetta [1:23]
Pablo Ortiz (b.1956) Paloma [2:18]
Paavo Heininen (b.1938) Triple Antienne [5:02]
Anders Hillborg (b.1954) Still and Flow [2:16]
Fred Lerdahl (b.1943) There and back again [3:38]
Veli-Matti Puumala (.1965) …se sillan…[4:01]
Pascal Dusapin (b.1955) 50 notes en 3 Variations [1:47]
Kimmo Hakola (b.1958) Colombia Variation [3:27]
Tan Dun (b.1957) Chiacona - after Colombi [1:34]
Marc Neikrug (b.1946) Tiny Colombia [1:04]
Joji Yuasa (b.1929) Locus on Colombi’s Chiacona [1:24]
Ryan Wigglesworth (b.1979) Arietta (after Colombi) [1:21]
Colin Matthews (b.1946) Drammatico [1:21]
Kaija Saariaho (b.1952) Dreaming Chaconne [3:22]
Ivan Fedele (b.1953) Preludio e Ciaconna [2:18]
Vinko Globokar (b.1934) Idée Fixe [5:10]
Gualtiero Dazzi (b.1960) Variation sombre e libre d’après Chiacona [3:36]
Tapio Tuomela (b.1958) Idulla [1:23]
Betsy Jolas (b.1926) A Fancy for Anssi [2:05]
Miroslav Srnka (b.1975) A Variation [1:51]
Luca Francesconi (b.1956) Anssimmetry [2:30]
Magnus Lindberg (b.1958) Duello [2:40]