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Pekka Kuusisto and Yarlung Records in Pure DSD256

06-07-2023 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 127

Symmetria Pario: Creation, Pekka Kuusisto, violin, Joonas Ahonen, piano. Yarlung Records 2023 Pure DSD256 HERE

When you take contemporary compositions from nine different composers (six of which were commissioned for your recital), and you add the brilliant artistry of Pekka Kuusisto and Joonas Ahonen, and you record it in a world class, acoustically magnificent music hall using some of the best microphones and recording equipment available, and you then mix it all together with the musical sensibilities of recording engineer and producer Bob Attiyeh... YOU GET MAGIC!

After listening through this album for the first time, my immediate reaction was to stand and cheer. 

Bob Attiyeh had told me that he thought this might be the best sounding recording Yarlung has yet released. I thought to myself, "Naw..., this is just your most recent child and you love it because of that." But no. Bob is right. Sonically, this album is a masterpiece. Musically it is equally compelling. 

Executive producer Russell Ward generously underwrote six new commissions for this recording by Yarlung. The challenge to the composers was to explore various stories about the moment of creation through music. The composers, knowing that their compositions would be performed by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and firebrand virtuoso pianist Joonas Ahonen, who often perform together in concert, all eagerly engaged in the creative work.

The album opens with a dazzling start as Symmetries, by multi-Grammy nominated composer Clarice Assad, takes command of one's senses. The technical virtuosity of both violinist and pianist are immediately challenged, and we are rewarded with a feast of sonic complexities. Mehmet Sanliko's Seven Sufi Vignettes then pull us into a more reflective, meditative, interlude, with its own distinctive mix of sonorities and rhythms, while not avoiding a central section of great power and urgency. Kuusisto and Ahonen drive through these waves of musical complexities with technical assurance and common purpose, each sounding well-attuned to supporting and complementing the other. These first two tracks are a bit more than 22 minutes of thoroughly engaging discovery.

In the third track we come upon the delightful composition Evolution of the One by pianist and composer Yuko Mabuchi, well known to Yarlung listeners for her superb jazz recordings Yuko Mabuchi Trio and Yuko Mabuchi plays Miles Davis. Somewhat quirky, syncopated, with sound flavors from flamenco to bebop, this is just a cornucopia of joyful creativity as it rolls from one set of ideas to the next. Bob Attiyeh writes that "Pekka and Joonas could not stop grinning while playing this work, especially during their improvisatory sections."

I could continue offering snippets of my thoughts about each track, but I think I'll stop with this final thought... So much of my enjoyment of this album comes from the huge variety and range of cultural influences brought to this project. Each composer brings a unique background, a different ethnic heritage, a different cultural milieu which they have experienced in their lives. The music reflects the extensive range and diversity of our human experience and musical heritages. This is, for me, the huge gift that Bob Attiyeh and executive producer Russell Ward have so graciously shared with us. Add to this the excellent and very interesting musical works, the exemplary musicianship, and the wonderous sonics of the recording, and what we have is a treasure of an album.

One word of advice: there are a lot of very soft, highly complex, passages for violin in many of these compositions, particularly the final work by Hannah Kendall. Your undivided attention in a quiet listening space, with perhaps a touch higher volume, will be rewarded.

I am delighted and thrilled to now have this in my music library! I most highly recommend it to you.

More information about the musicians

Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is artistic director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and principal guest conductor and artistic co-director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra beginning in the 2023 - 24 season. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Philharmonia, and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and is in residence at the Basel Symphony. He plays the Antonio Stradivari Golden Period ca.1709 “Scotta” violin, generously loaned by a patron through Tarisio. 

Finnish pianist Joonas Ahonen, who now resides in Vienna, may be known through his many recordings on the BIS and Ondine labels. He specializes in Romantic and Classical repertoire and records Beethoven and Mendelssohn on fortepiano, but he regularly premiers contemporary works by modern composers. He is a member of Klangforum Wien, one of today's leading ensembles for contemporary music, and he regularly collaborates with the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. 

A further word about the Pure DSD256 recording itself

The DSD256 download file to which I am listening is a Pure DSD recording, with no PCM post-processing. It was captured on a Merging Technologies HAPI A/D converter at DSD256 from the analog feed from a single stereo AKG C24 microphone. The resulting sound is about as pure, transparent, timbrally accurate and phase coherent as any recording you will ever find

Bob Attiyeh describes the recording process as follows: "Fellow recording engineer and equipment designer Arian Jansen and I used SonoruS Holographic Imaging technology in the analog domain to refine the stereo image, Yarlung's SonoruS ATR12 to record analog tape, the Merging Technologies HAPI to record 256fs DSD in stereo and surround sound and the SonoruS ADC to record PCM. We used our friend Ted Ancona's AKG C24 microphone previously owned by Frank Sinatra, and vacuum tube microphone amplification by Yarlung executive producer and designer Elliot Midwood."

AKG C24 stereo microphone used in this recording

Images courtesy of Yarlung Records