Acoustic Sounds

Petteri Iivonen and Sasha Cooke

J.S. Bach Partita No. 2 and Sasha Cooke Poeme De L'Amour Et De La Mer



Yarlung Records

Label: Yarlung Records

Produced By: Bob Attiyeh

Engineered By: Bob Attiyeh

Mastered By: Steve Hoffman, Arian Jansen, Bob Attiyeh

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Jacob Heilbrunn

April 26th, 2023



Absolutely Astounding New LPs From Yarlung Records

Violinist Petter Iivonen and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke Each Deliver Mesmerizing Performances

Everything about Yarlung Records’ new album featuring the violinist Petteri Iivonen, the concertmaster of the Paris Opera, screams retro. The cover, a closeup photo of Iivonen, is in black-and-white, the violin is a 1767 Ferdinandus Gagliano, and the performance itself was recorded with an AKG-C-24 microphone with the original brass surround CK12 tube. But the LP itself could not sound more contemporary—deathly quiet, transparent and lucid. My 45rpm pressing had nary a tick or pop when I played it on my TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable. All the virtues of digital without any of its nasty artifacts, in other words, are present. The result is a humdinger of a recording of Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Bach wrote the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin in 1720, when he was thirty-five-years-old and court conductor in Coethen for Prince Leopold. The prince definitely got his money's worth. Bach produced what amounted to a kind of musical Mount Everest for violinists, a set of intricate works that present a stiff challenge even for the most accomplished violinist. Iivonen scales these summits with aplomb. There is nothing dry or sterile about Iivonen’s playing; rather, it draws the listener, bar by bar, further into contemplating the sublime glories of this music. It may not be as full-bodied as Nathan Milstein's on his great 1975 recording for Deutsche Grammophon, but the ease and facility and care with which Iivonen performs this work is as persuasive as it is enticing. He displays total command in pianissimo passages, seemingly managing to suspend time itself. This is a violinist of the first water.

The Partita No. 2 may well be the most daunting of the works in this set. In particular, the chaconne, the fifth and final movement, draws upon all the resources of the violin and performer, particularly as it builds to a soaring conclusion. Johannes Brahms observed, "On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings." Iivonen approaches it carefully and methodically, displaying not only a wonderful dexterity, but also security of rhythm and pitch. Bach's aim was to emulate the sound of an organ, creating the sensation that four voices were speaking on a single-voice instrument. Perhaps nowhere did he succeed more brilliantly than in the contrapuntal writing of the chaconne.

The exemplary recording techniques that Yarlung has employed on this album also deserve praise. They deftly captures the timbre of Iivonen’s violin. What's more, the image size of the violin is not overblown. Instead, the LP offers a quite credible representation of Iivonen playing in Alfred Newman Hall in Los Angeles. Add in the fact that it plays at 45rpm and you have an openness to the sound that is captivating.

Something similar could be said about yet another fresh Yarlung release, this one of the superb mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke singing Chausson. Cooke won a GRAMMY award for Sony’s DVD release of the John Adams opera Doctor Atomic and a second one for her performance in The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at Santa Fe Opera. She has a rich and mesmerizing voice, one that endows Chausson’s Pome De L’Amour Et De La Mer for voice and orchestra (set to a text by the Symbolist poet Maurice Bouchor) with a haunting and lissome quality.

The engineer of this LP, Bob Attiyeh, deserves high marks for carefully balancing the sound of Cooke and the Colburn Orchestra. In fact, Attiyeh tends to go to fanatical lengths in the pursuit of the absolute sound. For this recording, he apparently built out and doubled the size of the stage at Zipper Hall at The Colburn School so as to accommodate the number of musicians required to perform Chausson's work. The recording equipment Attiyeh employed included Neumann U-47 microphones for what he says was “95% of the sound” and two AKG C-12s for reinforcement of the percussion and winds. The microphone preamplifiers were manufactured by Elliot Midwood and the LP was mastered by Bernie Grundman.

A confession: I wasn’t originally slated to review the Sasha Cooke album. Attiyeh sent what amounted to a musical care package for me by including the Sasha Cooke album along with the Bach recording that I had originally requested. But her singing was so exemplary that I felt obliged to extol it. Now I can't help wondering what other new recordings Yarlung has tucked away. If these LPs are anything to go by, they can’t arrive too quickly.

(We welcome Jacob Heilbrunn to! Heilbrunn writes for The Absolute Sound and got his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, where he studied trumpet, but his real job description is: editor of The National Interest, a foreign policy magazine that was founded by Irving Kristol in 1985. He began his career as an assistant editor at the magazine, where his first issue was the one featuring Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” essay. He went on to become a senior editor at the New Republic and an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times. He has written on both foreign and domestic issues for numerous publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Reuters, Washington Monthly, and Weekly Standard. He has also written for German publications such as Cicero, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Der Tagesspiegel_ed.).

Music Specifications

Catalog No: YAR84177-787V and YAR84179-148V

Pressing Plant: Pallas


Speed/RPM: 45

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: Analog Master Tape

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-04-27 12:42:45 AM

    bill schweitzer wrote:

    Thank you for this wonderful review. I have both pieces and love them. You mention the DGG Milstein as another great version. I will have to find that. Are you familiar with Gidon Kremer on Philips? What is your opinion of that?

  • 2023-04-29 10:36:22 PM

    bwb wrote:

    I picked up a used copy from my local record shop of the Janaki String Trio "Young Beethoven String Trio in C Minor" on Yarlung . I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the virtuosity of the performance, but the recoding is spectacular. I will be buying more from this label.