Jürg Kindle, “Mandopolis,” EK45-48 (four volumes). Editions Kalimba, www.editionkalimba.ch. Accompanying CD
recording by Annika Hinsche (available in hard copy or as a digital download).
The Swiss guitarist Jürg Kindle is one of the most prolific modern composers for classical guitar. In recent years he has been inspired to write for mandolin through collaboration with the German mandolinist Annika Hinsche. Prior to “Mandopolis, Kindle wrote two volumes of beginning and intermediate studies for solo mandolin, “Fingerfood I” and “Fingerfood II” and a demanding mandolin and guitar duo, for Hinsche, among other works. “Mandopolis” departs from these earlier works in two fundamental ways. First, at over 80 minutes in length, its scale is vast. Second, Mandopolis is composed entirely in scordatura, meaning that the mandolin’s strings are retuned in some manner. There is a long history of scordatura on the Neapolitan mandolin, beginning in the second half of the 18th century and reaching a peak in popularity during the Golden Age of the late 19th and early 20th century. On the American side of the Pond, virtually every major Golden Age composer for solo mandolin wrote one or more scordatura works; there are fewer from Europe, but still notable examples (such as Silvio Ranieri’s “Canto d’Estate).
Amateurs were especially fond of scordatura because it made the mandolin sound grander and allow rapid scales to be played in chords (usually major or minor thirds). Today, this Golden Age repertoire is mostly forgotten and scordatura has been relatively neglected by modern composers for solo mandolin, creating an opening in the repertoire for Kindle to fill. “Mandopolis” consists of 12 pieces (“Fantasias”) spread over four suites (3 per publication volume). Each Fantasia is given a title from Greek mythology, for example, Fantasia #3 is named after Hermes, and Fantasia #9 after Dionysos. The various scordatura are conveniently summarized at the start of each book. Space constraints prevent me from listing all of these, but to give a flavor, Fantasia #1, “Aries” features a tuning, low to high, of <G G>, <C E flat> <A A> <E E>, meaning that only the D string (both courses) are retuned; while Fantasia #9’s returning is more elaborate:<G G> <B flat D> <A B flat> <D D>. As is customary for scordatura, each piece is printed “what you play” – meaning, on the page the music looks as if it is for a standard (GDAE) tuned mandolin, although the sounding pitches are different. In the second half of each book, the pieces are reprinted in score format showing “what you play” and “what you hear”, extremely useful for anyone studying the harmonic structure of the music (as a good performer should). The primary influence is classical, but there are many elements of popular music (jazz, rock, and blues, Latin). The required technique is concert level and then some; there are many acrobatic gestures to negotiate, particularly in the extensive use of arpeggios and associate right hand plucking patterns.
The accompanying CD by Annika Hinsche is a tourde- force and absolutely essential to anyone who wants to play this music. I think of Hinsche as the kind of mandolinist who can play anything but “Mandopolis” pushes even her formidable skills to the limit. However, there is never any hint of stress in the recording – rhythms are pinpoint accurate, the music flows and breathes, and the close attention to dynamics creates fantastic moments of drama in every piece. Sound quality is superb, courtesy of Fabian Hinsche who supervised the recording, and sound engineer Matthias Ruhland. The recording was apparently made in just four days, which amazes me, given the complexity of the music. Each of the volumes, as well as the CD (hard copy or digital download), is available separately from Kindle’s English-language website listed above. There is also a package deal – buy all four volumes of the music, and the CD is free.Shipping costs
from Switzerland to the US are high, so for anyone intent on acquiring all four volumes, the package is a best buy. As of this writing, one of the tracks from the CD (Fantasia #4, “Artemis”) can be streamed in whole on YouTube; brief excerpts of all tracks can be streamed on Kindle’s website.