Already some five years ago, my composer-bassoonist colleague Harri Ahmas mentioned to me in a backstage discussion that it would be extremely interesting to compose a chamber piece for a harp and lower strings because of the unique sound combination of these instruments. I remembered this conversation as I just started the preliminary planning of the program for my postgraduate concert series. Knowing from experience Harri's profound knowledge of orchestral instruments and their sound world, I then asked if he would like to participate in the sound spectrum of the ensembles of my concert series with the very ensemble of cello, double bass and harp.
"The trio of cello, double bass and harp provide a composer quite a bit of possibilities. The combination has qualities such as clear, dark, deep harmony, depth, lightness and weight. In this composition I have tried to use the consonant and especially the compatible characteristic qualities of the instruments. The work has three parts: the first movement concentrates mainly on the melodic qualities of the cello and the double bass. The second movement concentrates on pizzicati and harmonics. The third movement can be seen as a synthesis of the previous ones. In the end we can hear the very beginning of the work from a new angle. The harp I used in a rather traditional way apart from the string glissandi of the first movement. The work was commissioned by Petri Lehto."
Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition piano original has inspired countless amount of orchestrations and arrangements of the piece. The composer's melodies are already very inspiring, but in the end it is Mussorgsky's way of handling the power of harmony and the ring of the big chords that make a listener yearn for a more versatile apparatus to express the colors and the emotions of the magnificent piece. The very first known full orchestration was completed in 1922 by the Slovenian-born conductor and violinist Leo Funtek; and the most famous version of all by Maurice Ravel came later same year. The use of the full symphony orchestra naturally gave a wide range of tools for creating a rich sound. However, the general overtone resonance of a full orchestra is a result of a combination of many different instrumental timbres with their corresponding overtone structures. That has left idealistic string players with a dream of executing Mussorgsky's visions with a full string ensemble - instruments of the same family and with the same sound producing system. The dream was realized by Ilkka Pälli.
In this profound study of low string ensemble sound, Pälli has exhaustively exploited the fantastic instrumental resources of the (irritatingly!) perfect string instrument - the violoncello. The six cellos form an incredibly resourceful core for the whole ensemble which can already alone implement nearly every detail of Mussorgsky's musical ideas. By virtue of his profession, as solo cellist of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Ilkka Pälli also thoroughly understands the sound interdependence between cellos and basses in the orchestra. Apart from the double basses here being needed for doubling some melody lines, their main function is to provide the lowest octave support for the timbre of the cello section and open up the overtone resonance of the consonant chords to its full extent. The colorful senza vibrato and sul ponticello passages demonstrate Pälli's imagination and unerring sense of style, not to mention the brilliant execution of the church bells of Kiev at the end.