Strings Attached – the Voice of Kannel
Works by Byrd, L Couperin, Dowland, Frescobaldi, Machaut, Rameau, Tulve and S Weiss
Anna-Liisa Eller (kannel, psaltry)
Harmonia Mundi HMN 916110 54:17 mins
This recording showcases Estonia’s national instrument: the kannel – said to have been played by the gods and bards of legend. Similar in its origins to the Biblical psaltery, the kannel also bears a faint resemblance to a clavichord but brags all the resonance of a harp. Originally used for Estonian folk music, it has evolved into a sophisticated concert instrument whose fully chromatic, four-octave range and ample dynamic spectrum make it strikingly versatile.
Conceived as ‘an audio voyage’, this programme makes associations between diverse repertoire through timbre, texture, colour and ‘affect’. Highlighting the connections between the traditional kannel and the instrument said to have been played by King David, Anna-Liisa Eller chooses the psaltery for Machaut’s beguiling song ‘Dame, vostre doulz viaire’, which flows like tears from her fingers. She plays the ‘classic’ kannel in a selection of works whose pervasive melancholy is highlighted by the instrument’s plangent sound: Dowland’s Lachrimae, brooding preludes by Louis Couperin and Rameau, a funereal Tombeau by the great lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss. To these, she brings a sense of improvisatory freedom and an array of expressive gestures and dynamics. Eller’s own improvisations exploit the instrument’s many possibilities; two are on an electric kannel, and they conjure up myriad colours, timbres and textures. In the hands of a gifted virtuoso like Eller, one understands why some have described the kannel’s sonority as the ‘sound from heaven’.