The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Dan Styffe (double bass) Catherine bullock (viola) Øystein Birkeland (cello), Gonzalo Moreno (piano) Susanna Wallumrød (vocals) Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen (percussion)
Composer: Teppa Hauta-Aho, Arvo Pärt, Paul Ramsier, Jon Øivind Ness, Mario Lavista, Henrik Hellstenius, Lars Petter Hagen, Stefan Schäfer & Peteris Vasks

In his third recital CD for Simax, the Swedish-born and Norwegian-resident double bassist Dan Styffe proves a persuasive advocate for a diverse range of recent music, from the hypnotic simplicity of Arvo Pärt to the volatile gestures of Henrik Hellstenius, by way of the nostalgic salon music of Stefan Shäfer. He plays throughout with an admirable clarity and draws some exquisite sounds from his instrument.

Styffe particularly excels in the simpler music, where he can clearly demonstrate his rich, versatile tone and velvety phrasing. In Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, with its timeless piano arpeggios and slow-moving solo line, Styffe’s every nuance takes on huge significance: his subtle vibrato and versatile range of attacks bring drama to the work. His upper register really sings in Finnish composer and bassist Teppo Hauto-Aho’s Kadenza, and his voicing of the final chord – a double-stopped 10th with left-hand pizzicato notes – is breathtaking. Young Norwegian composer Lars Petter Hagen’s Hymn recreates the sounds of the Hardanger fiddle on the double bass: icy harmonics, delivered gracefully by Styffe, take the place of the fiddle’s sympathetic strings.

Even in the works that rely more heavily on extended techniques – such as Hellstenius’s Ombra della sera, based on fragments of music by Nono, or Jon Øivind Ness’s Gust, which explores the very lowest range of the bass – Styffe communicates clearly the composers’ ideas with precise articulation and a confident sense of purpose.

Yet the works collected here all share the same serious, sombre tone: nothing sparkles, and little conveys any sense of energy. In sometimes underplaying the music’s drama, Styffe only adds to this sense of darkness. Nonetheless, this is a disc of exemplary performances, with a warm, clear recorded sound.