Reviews on concerts and CDs:
Persuasive case for the decacorde – Orfeo Amoroso
Fielding an all-contemporary agenda, mostly by composers with links to her native Finland, Mari Mäntylä is a skilled and expressive player who presents a persuasive case for the decacorde. The leaden properties that blunted the many positive attributes of Yepes’ recorded legacy are absent, Mäntylä’s instruments sounding like unusually resonant standard guitars entering territory their six-string forbears are denied. Nowhere is this more striking than in Kymmari by Jukka Tiensuu, composed for Mäntylä’s semi-fretless decacorde. Two strings are altered by a quarter tone and yes, the music is seriously heavyweight. Its unique soundscape is an experience not to be missed. Elsewhere, there’s more accesible fare, the ethereal Pilvi kämmenellä (A Cloud on the Palm of the Hand), a potential ”hit” for the modern decacorde.
PF- Classical Guitar Magazine
“This program has been well-constructed. I liked Mäntylä’s clean, disciplined playing greatly. She is an excellent technician—but more than that, she is an excellent musician.
Because I liked this disc so much, I ordered her earlier decacorde CD. It includes another work by Jalkanen, as well as music by Bach and Dowland. We did not review it in Fanfare, and ours is the loss!”
Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine
“On this recording, the decacorde presents itself as a magic super instrument: the featuring composers take full pleasure in its sonorous legato, imposing arpeggios and the enormous variety of shades in the plucked sounds. Mäntylä’s sensual interpretational approach, seeking for relevance makes the recording a delicate experience.”
Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen / Rondo Classic
Decacorde – Mari Mäntylä
For her debut solo album, the Finnish guitarist Mari Mäntylä has chosen the works of just three composers to represent Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary music. The chief distinguishing feature of Mäntylä is that she specialises in performing on a Decacorde – a 10-string guitar, an instrument which allows for a lutelike tone and is ideal for the programme which she presents on this disc.
The least familiar name will be Pekka Jalkanen, a Finnish composer whose three-movement suite on this disc is divided amongst the rest of the programme; hence his Preludi begins proceedings, Fantasia follows the first of the Dowland pieces and Nokturni concludes the recital following on from the Bach work. Jalkanen s composition is extraordinary; the three movements explore the naturally resonating harmonics of the guitar in an almost surreal sound-scape of imagery ranging from dark and broody moments to passages of exquisite delicacy. The work, here receiving its premiere recording, was commissioned by Mari Mäntylä.
The two Dowland works are given very good, convincing performances but it is the Bach suite where Mäntylä really shines. The presentation on this disc is an authoritative and highly musical one. She splendidly captures the characteristics of each movement well and easily meets the technical demands of this challenging music. This is a performance which ranks alongside the best of them.
Recording quality and overall production is excellent and I can thoroughly recommend this disc to add to anyone’s CD library.
Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine
The ten-stringed guitar appeals
Conceived during the baroque period, and having achieved its modern outlook in the 1960s, the ten-stringed guitar is a versatile and imposing instrument: the intimate virtues of the lute are combined within it, with the more overt sonority of the guitar.
When Mari Mäntylä, a splendid master of her instrument, plays the lute works of John Dowland, the gracefulness of the music comes forward through the warm, organ-like bass sound. The lute suite in A minor by J.S. Bach is conveyed on the decacorde in a more enjoyable way than on a regular six-string guitar. Pekka Jalkanen’s familiarity with the guitar can be heard in his suite, consisting of Preludi, Fantasia and Nokturni, in the form of fresh inventions, emerging from the instrument’s characteristics, and the graceful blossoming of the low register.
Veijo Murtomäki, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
Baroque on 16 strings
“Hannu Annala and Mari Mäntylä both belong to the top league of Finnish guitarists. This is a pleasing
recording with a heavy bottom register, good arrangements, clear articulation, and a strong expression of affections.”
Juha Torvinen / FMQ magazine
This highly entertaining CD is an anthology of baroque music arranged for two guitars: the familar 6-
string classical guitar and the decacorde, a less familar 10-string guitar, which has extra strings in the bass descending diatonically as does a theorbo.
First on the CD is Vivaldi’s Sonata in D minor op.1, no 8, beginning with a nicely paced Preludio, where
Hannu Annala and Mari Mäntylä’s good ensemble and sensitive phrasing are to the fore. The lowest strings of the decacorde increase the available range of notes, and give a pleasant warmth to the overall sound. There follows an energetic Corrente, a stark, thinly textured Grave, and a cheerfully bustling Giga, where lightness and delicacy of touch predominate.
In contrast is the Duetto in G major by the lutenist Adam Falckenhagen, written in the gallant style of the
late baroque. The notes describe the opening Largo as “sunny”, and there are certainly some pleasing
interchanges between the two guitars. The third movement, tempo giusto, is more classical in character,
and quite charming.
There follows an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s English Suite no. 3 in G minor (BWV 808). The opening Prelude is full of excitement and a variety of colours, contrasting with the gentle, unhurried Allemande. The two guitars create a gratifyingly dramatic Sarabande, where a low string of the decacorde sustains the opening tonic pedal. This low G comes in handy again with the musette of Gavotte II, and the final Gigue brings the suite to a rollicking close. Having two instruments creates a freedom in the phrasing of individual melodic lines.
The CD ends with a transcription of a Sonata in G minor by Cimarosa, a lively piece where three-against-two rhythms are well co-ordinated.
Stewart McCoy / Early Music Review
Decacorde – Mari Mäntylä
The decacorde is a ten-stringed guitar with a broadened bass register, compared with the ordinary guitar. Mari Mäntylä has previously recorded a bandoneon-decacorde CD with her duo partner Kristina Kuusisto. The record featured elaborate and spirited playing. The main idea of the new recording consists in the interaction between the framework of Pekka Jalkanen’s suite, and the works of Dowland and Bach interposed between the parts of the suite. Thus, a single instrument creates a bridge from the past composers to Jalkanen. All three composers carry and pass the same musical baton in relay. The Preludi of Jalkanen is based on chords in arpeggio, which from time to time give way to melodic lines in unison. In Fantasia, a melancholy downward embryonic melody grows into a more substantial whirl of arpeggios, until it finally, after a fierce torrent, calms into light ripples. The main feature of Nokturni is its song-like character, which now and then both quickens and subsides, whilst sometimes even progressing into aggressive bursts. The playing of Mari Mäntylä is both appealing and elaborate.
Ilkka Ylönen, Muusikko magazine
Eloquent expressions with a guitar
The decacorde or ten-stringed classical guitar on Mari Mäntylä’s record proves to be a rich and resounding instrument. It is as perfectly fit for the classical lute works of John Dowland and J. S. Bach as for the meditative contemporary music of Pekka Jalkanen. The elaborate playing of Mari Mäntyä is sensitive and temperamental.
Lauri Kilpiö, Suomen Kuvalehti magazine
The dusky charm of the decacorde: the ten-string guitar offers a true revelation
Guitar player Mari Mäntylä has specialised in the decacorde – the ten-stringed guitar, the dusky and softly resonating sound of which reaches the low registers of the lute. The decacorde lacks the fragile liveliness of the lute, but is compensated for through an ethereal sound and continuity that are easy on the ear.
With her ultimate pianissimos, Mäntylä provides a breathtaking profundity to the melancholy spirit of John Dowland, as well as to the Allemande and Sarabande movements of Bach’s suite for the lute; in their subtlety, Mäntylä hides almost frightening strength.
The fast movements also sound less strained than on the standard guitar, and the half an hour portion of music becomes a gentle, but clearly characterised whole. The elaborately played details and ornaments are yet additional proof that Mari Mäntylä is a top-level musician.
The Preludi, Fantasia and Nokturni of Pekka Jalkanen are bewilderingly highly suited to the noble company of Bach and Dowland. The minimalistic emotional shades are owed to the past masters, but they first and foremost manage to convey the essence of the decacorde as an instrument.
Kare Eskola, Rondo magazine
The playing by Mari Mäntylä is thoroughly musical and technically flawless. During the Bach suite, she emphasizes the meditative and lyrical character of the slow movements, rather than their dance-related features. The Sarabande and Allemande movements particularly form well bearing and intimate musical arcs.
“New records” on channel YLE 1 (Finnish broadcasting company), Risto Nordell
Mari Mäntylä is one of the few musicians who have mastered this instrument. The fluently flowing and musically rich compositions of Pekka Jalkanen are exquisitely fitting for this instrument. The slow and beautiful melodies of John Dowland and the J. S. Bach’s lute suite open up firm perspectives for the recording. A fine acquaintance!
Matti Saurama, Demari newspaper
At least in the hands of such a master as Mäntylä, the decacorde resounds warmly, and compared with the lute, the resonance is stronger, which gives additional tonal variety to the music. Mäntylä’s record offers a fine musical whole, in which the compositions by Pekka Jalkanen, which comment on the old works of music, sensitize the listener to even more concentrated listening. In these works, the resounding capacity of the decacorde is presented at its best.
Eija-Riitta Airo-Karttunen, Kainuun Sanomat newspaper
Mari Mäntylä was responsible for the most harmonious input of the concert. She played a part from Lachrimae Pavan of John Dowland with a well formed outlining of Dowland’s melancholic form language. Equally, during the Passacaille of the lute virtuoso Leopold Weiss, she was able to convey the technically demanding polyphonic texture with an accomplished technique.
Anders Riska, Västra Nyland newspaper
Powerful yet delicate touch on the decacorde
Straight from the beginning of [modern Finnish composer] Pekka Jalkanen’s hard-picked harmonic note and the soon thereafter introduced explodingly powerful and fast arpeggios, you note that Mari Mäntylä really has some technical excellence of her instrument! Throughout the recording the touch on the strings is so strong, most accurate and extremely desicive. The three Jalkanen premiéres are possibly the most interesting part here, since they contain the most of the drama, but the highly classic (= much played) Bach and Dowland pieces are performed with [almost] the same strength and precision, as well.
This could be the only recording of solo music for this ‘decacorde’-named instrument. The gold in this product is not just the semi-exotic sound of this guitar-with-four-added-bass-strings, but definitely most of all in the performances full of lyrical power to the highest extent. I’ve seldom if ever heard [classical] guitar played with this strength and clarity, and surely this is not just because of the added bass strings! The interpretations are masterful, and excel both in the fast [Bach: Presto / Gavotte II] and the slow movements [Bach: Sarabande]. Of course, there is no such thing as perfection in this universe, but I would like to give a highest class valuation to Mari Mäntylä the decacorde player! She has achieved such a skill of her instrument that it is truly a mark of a master.
The pieces are great [yet overtly popular, ex. Jalkanen’s compositions], the sound as well as the playing is excellent, and there is historic value here.
Definitely recommended for ones into classical guitar, classical solo music in general, or simply beautiful music that gives you challenges but is not actually difficult.
Musical Opinion, amazon.co.uk
Sparkling baroque music on two guitars
“From the very first track, one senses a tranquilly flowing and sweet melancholy mood, which culminates in the Allemande and Sarabande of the English Suite. The nostalgia becomes nearly transcendental in Scartatti’s Sonata played solo by Mäntylä. The long collaboration of Annala and Mäntylä as a duo can be heard in the peaceful breathing of the music. With the arrangement for two guitars, the duo needn’t push the limits of technical mastery; instead, the players can concentrate on nuanced timbre and eloquent phrasing.”
Kare Eskola / Uudet levyt (Radio programme “New Album Releases”)
The union of the decacorde and the bandoneón
On its new Speira CD the Duo Dryades has collected music that has been specifically composed for this pair of instruments. The composers of the album are Sid Hille, Vincent Bouchot, Iiris Kosonen, Pekka Jalkanen and Harri Wessman. All these composers have interiorized in a remarkable way the fascinating sound sphere of these two instruments and this has resulted in a musically variable and interesting record. This impression is emphasised by the fact that the musicians of the Duo Dryades seem to be on the same musical wavelength. The playing has clear-cut outlining and the interpretations are brave considering both nuances and tempos.
Risto Nordell, YLE Radio 1, Sept. 2010
A bandoneón-decacorde duo is an extremely rare, if not a unique, ensemble. In the hands of Kristina Kuusisto and Mari Mäntylä it proves to be a viable combination.
The accordion that has become known through the Argentinean tango and the 10-stringed guitar meet in a fruitful crossing of influences with backstreet melancholy, modern timbre effects, classical technique, fiery accents, energetic rhythm and jazzy casualness.
The title track Speira by Pekka Jalkanen, stands out as the fullest and mellowest of all the compositions, whereas Sonatina palimpsestica by Vincent Bouchot appeals to the listener with its fragile vibration. The Promenades by Sid Hille resound with an unstrained simplicity. Finlandia by Harri Wessman charts his native Finland with affectionate melancholy, but with a twinkle in his eye.
Jukka Isopuro, Helsingin Sanomat, Sept. 2010
In its first recording, the Duo Dryades comes close to the aesthetics typical of the ECM New Series. The soulful bandoneón of Kristina Kuusisto and the profoundly sonorous decacorde, the ten-string guitar of Mari Mäntylä create an organic sound that draws shades from tango nuevo, art music and jazz. The overall ambience of the recording is supported by the specially commissioned and well-prepared programme, which entwines a determined and subtle, yet an easily approachable whole.
The long cooperation and spiritual sisterhood of Kuusisto and Mäntylä is clearly heard in the Bouchot’s Sonatine, in which they render the flickering visions smoothly. The Mariatyyri by Iiris Kosonen is made of more emphatic stuff, but thanks to the light and rhythmically precise playing, an air of tranquillity prevails throughout the piece. Ingenuous and technically crystal bright playing make the late Impressionism of Sid Hille and the pseudo-oriental moods of Pekka Jalkanen convincing. The most convivial offering of the record is the four-part suite Finlandia by Harri Wessman, in which an entertaining Latin-Americanism sheds a light of jovial irony on the title.
Kare Eskola, Rondo magazine 8/2010
Dominus Krabbe monologue opera
The many-sidedness of the voice and stage personality of Teppo Lampela has inspired Jalkanen to compose vividly varying vocal lines. The text was clearly rendered and the narration was easy to follow. Each story added to the intensity of the work, reaching its culmination in the impressive sermon of the ghost Krabbe. The basic ambience of the opera is serious, but the tale of the church guard Optaatus brings some necessary humorous relief. Shaven-headed Lampela had the apt look of a ghost, resembling somewhat the Frost creature in Hugo Simberg’s painting, or the mummy-like figure in The Scream by Edvard Munch.
The décacorde part, played by Mari Mäntylä, has been written with colourful orchestral style. Based on archetypal melodic passages, the décacorde weaves an intensively smooth texture, upon which the vocal line is drawn. Like the guitar, the décacorde is an optimal companion for a singing voice, as it never overruns even the faintest sighs of the singer. In a couple of places Mäntylä joined in the singing too.
The direction of Kimmo Kahra and the costumes of Reija Laine created a clear and ritual-like setting for the performance. The staging emphasized aptly the dream-like timelessness of Jalkanen’s opera.
Juha T Koskinen, Amfion
An exceptional duo, which seduces with its skillful performances. The performances of the duo are excellent, and both of the musicians generate fine tones out of their demanding instruments. The close collaboration of the duo with contemporary composers is a pleasant fact, which has resulted in a new repertory for this exceptional ensemble.
-Janne Koskinen / Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE – Radio 1
Here, we deal with music that extends far beyond the limits of everyday idioms. It represents a new and delightful “third stream”; music that is capable of integrating both popular and folk music with art music. The real clue of the recording is in how they have made these pieces of music sound.
These girls know how to play! -Askel magazine
The recording of a rarely heard ensemble is original and refined. The chamber music collaboration flows naturally and promptly with sensitive reactivity. Mäntylä’s playing has a rich touch and sound and her technical accuracy is flawless. It only takes listening to the first Piazzolla bass progression and you will already be covered in goose bumps. The inexhaustible and always appropriate shades of sounds of the Kuusisto bandoneon will not allow the listener to slacken for a single moment. Finally, the first and foremost feature of a quality recording: it becomes better and better on each listening.
-Juan Antonio Muro, Kitaristi magazine
You will be able to hear both the passion of the Argentinean tango nuevo, the gaiety of Breton folk music and the original melancholy of the Finnish spirit – the effect is tremendous.
-Pirkko Vekkeli, Gloria magazine
The concert by the Bandoneon Decacorde Duo of Kristina Kuusisto and Mari Mäntylä left no one untouched.
-Pirjo Kuorikoski-Lindberg, Ilkka newspaper
The sphere of sound offered by the recording is thrilling and colourful. The instruments are united with their sounds in a fabulous way and the hearing experience soothes the soul of the listener.
-J-P. Laitio-Ramone, Pohjalainen newspaper
The combination of the fieriness of a Latin tango country and the iciness of the Scandinavian home land of Kristina Kuusisto and Mari Mäntylä is probably the key to the the number of applauds heard during this musical evening at the Al-Bustani festival. -Rabih Chami Al-Balad
During the brilliant evening of Kuusisto and Mäntylä, the musical information and feeling dovetailed perfectly. The evening was fresh and cleansing, the musicians were brilliant, the composition of the programme was palatable and the audience was delighted. In short, the evening offered the caressing of souls without any barriers.
-Vesa Liukko, Pyhäjokiseutu newspaper
The first performer of the concert, the Bandoneon Decacorde Duo of Kristina Kuusisto and Mari Mäntylä was an exquisite surprise. The bandoneon was charged with rich nuances and the ten-stringed decacorde guitar of Mäntylä projected effective vigour. The musical landscapes of the duo stretched from South America to the northern homelands of the polska dances of Scandinavia.
-Jukka Hauru, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper