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CD Review

Kalevi Aho

BIS 1186

Symphonies

  • Symphony #3 (Sinfonia Concertante for violin & orchestra)
  • Modest Mussorgsky/Aho: Songs and Dances of Death
Jaakko Kuusisto, violin
Matti Salminen, bass
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS CD-1186 59'41" Recorded 2000/01
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BIS 396
  • Symphony #1
  • Violin Concerto
  • Silence
Manfred Gräsbeck, violin
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS CD-396 61'45" Recorded 1989
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Kalevi Aho (b.1949) is a prolific Finnish composer who deserves to be better known in UK. His 12th symphony will be premièred in August on the slopes of a mountain in Lapland! Symphony No 3 (Sinfonia Concertante for violin & orchestra) began as a violin concerto in 1971, but took two years (longer than any of his other symphonies) to metamorphose into this interesting hybrid, with 'unappeasable opposition' between the orchestra and the soloist, who is overwhelmed and drowned in the second movement. He remains silent in the melancholy slow movement but recovers for the finale, a virtuoso cadenza for solo violin and percussion, the violinist consoled at the end by two clarinets. This was no preconceived formula, but grew organically of itself. It works well and holds the attention for a span of nearly 40 minutes. I have reservations about Aho's orchestration of Mussorgsky's original for piano, transposed down for bass, sometimes enriched with counter melodies and counterpoint, and which 'tries to avoid neutral instrumentation'. It is played and sung with conviction, and Salminem's is one of the great bass voices.

Aho is generously served by BIS and I have been rehearing his Symphony No 1 (1969) and Violin Concerto (1982), in which the soloist (Manfred Gräsbeck) and orchestra are 'equal, complementary and mutually supporting'. The symphony starts and ends with fugues, the first becoming a 'tragicomical, limping waltz melody'. The later concerto is severe and tonal at its opening, becomes progressively free and dance-like, ending finally with a gentle berceuse. Silence (also 1982) is mainly 'static, motionless, dream-like'. Aho displays a free-ranging imagination, every work significantly different and 'itself'. Equally recommendable and well worth exploring, these two CDs make a fine pair.

Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf

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