The accordion has never - well, hardly ever - had it so good. But forget Piazzolla and banish thoughts of the tango: this debut solo disc from the Norwegian virtuoso Frode Haltli presents five challenging new works which explore the furthest sonic regions of the instrument. This is all high-latitude music... You'll need to pace yourself for the 24-minute Gagaku Variations at the heart of this disc. A trip to Japan inspired Maja Ratkje to a work which fuses the energies and sonorities of the accordion and the string quartet to unpredictable and revelatory effect.
Hilary Finch, BBC Music Magazine
Still in his twenties, the young Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli is clearly a performer of gifts and imagination, whose astonishing virtuosity has inspired many Scandinavian composers. This stimulating ECM release showcares his prowess in a cross-section of works especially written for him. The accordion's sheer adaptability, its capacity for violence and delicacy, massive sonorities and fleeting, elusive ones, makes it an attractive medium for contemporary music. It can be a metallic organ, a reed pipe, a clicking percussion instrument and much else besides, while always remaining essentially itself. All these pieces explore this enormous sonoristic range while contriving to establish their composer's individual characters. ... This is certainly an intriguing and enjoyable collection of contemporary Scandinavian music, stunningly well recorded by ECM.
Cahum MacDonald, International Record
Frode Haltli's first solo recording is more than a collection of superb interpretations of pieces by prominent Nordic composers. It is shaped like a well-constructed concert, from the almost introverted opening piece, the title work "Looking on Darkness" by Bent Sørensen, to Asbjørn Schaathun's closing "Lament". Four of the five works (the first and the last, plus the victory lap "Bombastic SonoSofisms" by Per Magnus Lindborg and "Jeux d'anches" by Magnus Lindberg) are accessible pieces of contemporary music, enjoyable without being banal. There is more resistance in the longest... work on the CD, Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje's "Gagaku Variations". This piece explores the intersection of traditional Japanese music and Western modernism, and displays a range covering a fragile vulnerability to a more aggressive texture. As a musician, Haltli conveys these nuances with a confident sensitivity, in an unusual combination of elegant and rough-hewn interplay with the Vertavo Quartet. This is a fearless, searching and exceptional debut.
Astrid Kvalbein, Verdens Gang
There aren't many accordionists who manage to lift the instrument out of its countrified doldrums, but Frode Haltli is one of the few who can. On his brand-new debut solo CD he proves that the accordion can be a perfectly satisfactory and extremely expressive art-music solo instrument. Haltli doesn't use his technical skill and dexterity just to impress us, but as a means of exposing the soul and raw nerve of the instrument. ... The music itself is far from simple. Particularly not for the performer and his instrument: both have to tackle some formidable challenges in a series of contemporary Nordic pieces that were composed especially for Haltli and his accordion. But the open-minded listener can expect a memorable experience and a stimulating journey through a musically demanding, but rewarding, landscape.
Ole-Einar Andersen, Adresseavisen