Finlandia, the biggest Finnish favorite of them all, is played with seriousness and restraint by Panula and the Turku orchestra. The effect is more patriotic than mere splashiness would be, so even the less than crisp brass can't spoil this reading. From there on in, the mood on this CD is mostly calm and genial, and when more intense emotions appear (as in Sibelius's Valse triste), they do so in the context of the salon or the pops concert. There are pompous and engaging marches, bittersweet Élégies, characteristic folk pieces (Rautavaara's Fiddlers, his Op. 1, seems to poke fun, albeit gently, at the not always concert hall-ready playing of rural violinists), excerpts from popular film scores and stage music, and works that, in one way or another, seem to invite being used as signature music for classical radio programs. Rautavaara and Sallinen (and Sibelius, for that matter) have written tough music, but you won't hear it on this CD, which is a like a book of picture postcards. Sallinen's Sunrise Serenade, a transparently scored work with prominent trumpet and piano parts, sounds like something from Aaron Copland's top drawer, and it alone is worth getting this CD for. Three of the works have been orchestrated by Panula himself to good effect.
The playing on this disc is more than decent, although, as I hinted above, the orchestra is at its best when the music is smallest in scale. I have no reservations at all about the sympathetic interpretations. The engineering, while nothing spectacular, is effective at giving the listener a feel for both the ensembles' true sound, and for the venues in which they are playing.
A collection such as this one would be attractive at any price. At Naxos' list price, it's irresistible. Finnish lollipops, then, but neither cold nor dour!
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle