A journey through time, space, and states of mind – from Bach via Webern to two works from his own pen, from Georgia via Vienna to New York, and from Gaspar Cassadó's Danse du diable vert to Franz Liszt's La lugubre gondola. With Chonguri, the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga has fulfilled a long-cherished dream and presented an unconventional program of encores, creating an exciting arc of tension in which ethnic, nostalgic, and abstract inflections surprisingly blend and interact.
In 2002 ECM issued the last installment in Demenga's highly-touted Bach cycle, in which each of the six cello suites was juxtaposed with a piece of chamber music by a contemporary composer such as Holliger, Carter, Veress, or Bernd Alois Zimmermann. This new anthology of short pieces is a similar attempt to find illuminating combinations and surprising cross-effects. As he points out in his liner notes for the new album, his special concern is the “No-Man's land of the eras” and the “interstices” in the composer's handwriting. Precisely timed pauses between the tracks, along with carefully wrought harmonic transitions that maintain the tonic or migrate to related keys, transport the listener into a world transcending the bounds of the pieces themselves.
Surely even more unusual in this respect than Anton Webern's atonal Drei kurze Stücke, which form the exact midpoint of the program, are the four chorale settings from Bach's Orgelbüchlein and Schübler Chorales, which Demenga himself has judiciously arranged for cello and accordion. As their titles suggest, all of them tie in with the album's overriding leitmotif: farewell and death, world-weariness and the hope of redemption. The sound of Teodoro Anzellotti's accordion kindles memories of the organ while covering the music with a nostalgic patina.
Despite Demenga's concern for an overriding theme, Chonguri is also a collection of his personal favorites. Among these are his own two compositions as well as three pieces by Fauré and two Chopin nocturnes. The Georgian composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925-1992), on the other hand, is a new discovery for Demenga. Tsintsadze began his career in the 1940s as a cellist in the State String Quartet and advanced to become one of his country's leading twentieth-century composers. His catalogue of compositions includes two operas, five symphonies, twelve string quartets, and much else besides. Hardly any of his music is known in the West. The short piece for unaccompanied cello that has lent its title to our album imitates the sound of Georgia's traditional long-necked lute with its chordal pizzicatos.
Thomas Demenga was born in Berne in 1954 and studied with Antonio Janigro, Leonard Rose, and Mstislav Rostropovich. He also received formative stimuli in chamber music from Claus Adam, Felix Galimir, and Robert Mann at New York's Juilliard School. He has been a professor at Basle Musikhochschule since 1980 and the artistic director of the "Young Artists in Concert" Festival in Davos since 2000. Demenga performs regularly as a soloist and chamber musician in the major festivals and concert halls of the world. He maintains an avid interest in contemporary music and has presented a great many world premieres. His own compositions are also increasingly drawing attention: the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne has commissioned a work from him for two cellos and orchestra, to be premiered in the fall of 2007. He has been recording for ECM since the 1980s, this new album being his ninth release on the Munich label. Demenga plays an instrument built by the brothers Antonio and Girolamo Amati in 1595.
Born in Innsbruck in 1963, the pianist and composer Thomas Larcher is considered one of the most versatile performers of our time and a keen connoisseur of both the solo and chamber music repertoires. From 2001 to 2004 he headed a piano class at Basle Musikhochschule. He has presented a program of piano pieces by Schubert and Schoenberg on ECM New Series and rubbed shoulders with artists of the stature of Michelle Makarski, Thomas Zehetmair, and Heinz Holliger. For years he has been one of Thomas Demenga's most stalwart musical companions. The two musicians made a joint appearance at ECM in a double album of works by Bach, Hosokawa, and Yun. Larcher's recording debut as a composer, entitled Naunz, brought the two men into contact with the violinist Erich Höbarth. In autumn 2006 ECM will issue a CD with further examples of Larcher's chamber music, again featuring Demenga, but this time including such musicians as Christoph Poppen and the Rosamunde Quartet.
Born in Apulia, Teodoro Anzellotti is a leading innovator in accordion technique who has decisively influenced the contemporary repertoire for his instrument. Working in close cooperation with composers, he has premiered more than three hundred new works to date. He has taught at Berne's Hochschule der Künste since 1987 and at the Freiburg Musikhochschule since 2002. His previous recordings for ECM include appearances on Heinz Holliger's Beiseit / Alb-Chehr and the final installment of Thomas Demenga's Bach cycle.
24-page illustrated booklet with a brief note from the performer and an essay by Anselm Cybinski, both in German and English.