The highlight of this CD is the world première recording of Aulis Sallinen's Eighth Symphony (2001), which is a reflection on the composer's advanced age (he was born in 1935), a salute to Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, and a reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. This is a tall order for a 24-minute symphony, but Sallinen has always been quite capable of making a coherent and cohesive whole out of disparate elements. Sallinen's style is characterized by contrast and by drama, but not drama for the sake of display. Like Shostakovich, even though he writes music that calls for a large orchestra, he is sparing with tutti passages. He seldom steam-rollers the listener with sound. Chamber music-like passages abound in his orchestral works. The Eighth Symphony is a philosophical work, not tragic but certainly not cheerful. Again, Shostakovich comes to mind, particularly his last symphony. The music seems to be a living entity, and we follow its growth, its conflicts, and its setbacks as we would those of another human.
Much the same is true of the Violin Concerto, which was completed in 1968. The music fairly pulses with life – not with an embarrassment of musical ideas, per se, but with their development and their interactions. Rather than writing a virtuoso display work, Sallinen has written a novella in which the violin soloist is the main character. Here as always, Sallinen's timbral sensitivity is outstanding. Jaakko Kuusisto plays this concerto with gorgeous tone.
Shadows and The Palace Rhapsody are lighter works, both of them related to larger scores – The King Goes Forth to France and The Palace, respectively. Sallinen's rather grim sense of humor is revealed in both of these works. Authoritarian, pretentious rulers and governments are given the subtle raspberry through cockeyed allusions to march-music (in Shadows) and jazz (in The Palace Rhapsody). We might be sharing a laugh with Sallinen, but there is bitterness in our guffaws.
Like the composer, Ari Rasilainen is a Finn. He and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz are recording Sallinen's symphonies and concertos for cpo. This is the second disc I've heard in this series, and like its predecessor, it's a good one. Rasilainen makes a better case for Shadows than either De Priest (BIS) or Kamu (Finlandia). Cpo's engineering is superb too, and as is always the case with this label, there are intelligent and comprehensive booklet notes.
Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle