Once again a fantastic and appasionante cd of my dear friend Dan Styffe. Aside from our old friendship, I must say that Dan this time has been exceeded, giving these pieces of difficult technical execution all the expressive power of a great performer who always have loved for its infinite virtuosity and lyricism. I highly recommend it to all serious students of our beloved doublebass so that they can better understand the 'high technical school and interpretation of the great maestro Dan Styffe.
DAN STYFFE cd "Postcards from Oslo"
Review by prof.dr. Vito D. Liuzzi
The record production of the great Norwegian master, Dan Styffe, has now assumed levels of auditory quality that are noteworthy, not only historical but, in particular, contemporary. Thanks to his powerful and unrivaled double bass, a Gasparo (Bertolotti) from Salò (from Brescian School) of the late sixteenth century, Styffe has always managed to get the best sonic qualities from this "jewel of instrument" not only to deal with the traditional repertoire and more classical but, explicitly, to begin a musical discourse aimed more at "contemporaneity". In this CD, in fact, we find all living composers who wanted to give Styffe a sliver of their heart and soul striving to improve the singing of an instrument as difficult as a double bass. In a precise context not intended to consider the double bass as an instrument to "beat" or "scramble" to obtain sounds and noises often annoying to the human ear but, on the contrary, to extract from the same fluent and extremely loud sounds pleasant, where the hand of Dan Styffe knows very well how to lean with his bow or with his mellow pinches. From this point of view, the CD "Portraits from Oslo" highlights all the technical and expressive skills of Dan Styffe, the result of a "painstaking" work of study and serious instrumental research. Initially, we said that composers such as Simon Garcia, John Alexander, Teppo Hauta-aho (called the King), Sadie Harrison, Terje Viken, Steve Plews, Bernard Salles, Marcus Paus and Marin Marais all put themselves at the service of Dan Styffe for create something unique and unreachable, almost unattainable. A sort of "summit" among all these great composers, each of whom has put his own signature on one of the recording works that best interprets the desire for contemporaneity and sonority that do not corollary to the double bass but that make it "in toto" absolute protagonist . And here, in this context, the skilled hand of the artist Dan Styffe arrives, who has never pulled back in the face of truly remarkable difficulties for a double bass player, assisted by a superbly virtuous technique that can be found in all the entirety of this discographic work. A so called "Postcards from Oslo" that is heard in one breath and leaves the listener displaced by its poetic beauty and ever-increasing sensitivity. From this point of view Dan Styffe turns out to be a Master from all points of view (technical, structural and interpretative) in the wide panorama of low-level bass players all over the world. Now we will understand it better. Already with Reflections and Polar Lights by the Spanish Simon Garcia, Styffe highlights a very sweet and extremely lyrical song, where even the extremely sung pizzicato take us back to an idyllic and very suggestive atmosphere. Fifth the feared "double stops" in great speed and masterly executed by Styffe seem to mark once again the desire to have not chaotic but clear and well defined sonorities, despite the boldness of the score. Also in the second piece by Garcia all these elements are emphasized: the pizzicatos reflect a very suspended air but with a stubborn rhythm, together with pizzicatos, well executed glissandi and natural harmonics that at a certain point seem almost to indicate the ticking of a clock . "The intelligent hand" by John Alexander once again puts Styffe to grips with a sort of "large cantabile" in which the technical aspect exalted at maximum power does not prevail but an extremely peaceful and dreaming atmosphere where the initial "tremolati" tends to open the entire sound and compositional structure. Styffe realizes at best a sort of "compositional invention" where the singing performed with the bow follows the same sound structure this time, however, using the pizzicatos. But also in this piece the virtuosic qualities of Dan Styffe are exalted that first must face difficult "double stops" and then proceed in a virtuosic way towards a series of notes made to the bridge in order to obtain a certain very rough and vitreous sound. With the song by Teppo Hauta -aho "Dan Ballad" this time Dan Styffe finds material for his teeth, in the sense that the composition immediately assumes extremely virtuosistic tones due to the almost immediate use of "double stops" very complex to achieve and that hide a clearly identifiable theme at the end. In this case Dan Styffe best solves this "technical procedure" of a certain complexity to begin to sing again both on natural harmonics and on the keyboard, often with a predefined pedal. And so the song creates a kind of strong tension when the soloist has to face a series of pizzicatos with considerable effort well-balanced and at the same time extremely virtuosistic. Then the sequence to the natural harmonics that bring the whole Ballad back to what is its "primigenìa" or essential nature. The compositional genius of "Magister Teppo" is now internationally recognized and Styffe seems to be able to enhance it to the fullest. With Sadie Harrison and his four pictorial paintings, the virtuosity of Dan Styffe is more exalted. With Harrison the most complex canons of contemporary writing for classical double bass are tackled. The sounds seem immediately more dissonant and the "double stops" (which actually hide the theme well) are becoming increasingly difficult and complex to achieve. But from this point of view the realization of Styffe seems to be masterly also in the glazed harmonics. Moreover, with the bow "rebounded" on the strings, Styffe realizes a sort of sound drawings that will lead him to perform much more difficult passages to the bridge. Here the technique of pizzicato rises or emerges in all its power. To pass this way to a poignant melody that is well suited to the voice and tone of a double bass. To return to the beats to the serious that close the "four postcards". With Terje Viken Styffe is facing in our opinion another kind of virtuosimo that the "Master of Norway" realizes in a concrete and nothing short of sparkling. To the bow on the strings with the wood of the bow is opposed, in speed, a "balzatissimo" that would put a strain on every great soloist of the double bass. A "leap" that ranges in different areas of the keyboard and that Styffe seems to achieve with maximum security. Undoubtedly his excellent mastery of the arc finds in this composition a truly concrete and never fugitive challenge. Finally, a series of very pleasant "sound effects" that Styffe still achieves with extreme precision and technical mastery. So Steve Plews with "Coltrane", a song that highlights the power of the individual pizzicato that Styffe plays in an exemplary manner almost as if he deliberately whipped the strings of his Gasparo da Salò on the keyboard. But it is also a way to understand how the famous "double stops" on a double bass can also be used to express a soft and never dissonant melody, exactly as Styffe proposes, which in the end almost manages to make them sing in a full and harmonious way. So we come to one of the compositions that we want to emphasize and where the virtuosity of Dan Styffe is highlighted in all its grandeur: the Sonata by Bernard Salles, double bass player, conductor, teacher and composer. One of the major difficulties that Styffe has had to face is the considerable difficulty of the bow strokes that are inherent in this virtuosic composition. In addition, the extension embraces the entire keyboard up to the point of view and Styffe has shown a remarkable ability to practically perfect intonation, also highlighting a very audible and extremely sweet theme. This time the difficulty of the "bowings" also manifests itself in the most serious register of Styffe's double bass, which, however, has no difficulty in making them extremely clear and vivid. The cantabile turns out to be of extreme sweetness and creativity while, with the Presto, it returns to a "non-fashion virtuosity" but extremely concrete, certainly a scarecrow of any good double bass player. With Marcus Paus and his "Sonatina" Dan Styffe is faced with other kinds of technical and expressive difficulties, not second to those described so far. The piece opens with a very intriguing series of natural harmonics pinched to turn towards those very difficult to issue. The theme is clear and spontaneous, together with a series of bichords that make the atmosphere a little darker. Also in the "Blues" Styffe proves to be very precise and intriguing in his exposure, extremely refined in those with two strings and constantly showing a clear and perfect intonation on which he can juggle as he pleases. The “double stops in higher position” make an atmosphere truly full of suggestiveness and mysticism. With Marin Marais we conclude this Compact Disc made by "Prima Facie" in an absolutely impeccable manner. A CD for true and authentic "Audiophiles" who want to rediscover the dark sound of a double bass that is as agile as that of a violin. And all this thanks to the teacher of Dan Styffe who, thanks to the support of his marvelous and in some ways unmatchable Gasparo da Salò, has once again shown how you can express real emotions and never fugitive making "sing or cantare" the most serious of string instruments: "The Contrabass".
Vito Domenico LIUZZI
Conversano (BA) Italy