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Society of Finnish Composers 50th Anniversary 1995

Veli-Matti Puumala (1965-) Tutta via (1992-93) [4:29] Olli Kortekangas (1955-) Konzertstück for Clarinet, Cello and Orchestra (1992-93) [13:50] Jukka Koskinen (1965-) Ululation (1994) [14:27] Tapio Tuomela (1958-) The Escape Ladder (1988-89) [12:57] Hannu Pohjannoro (1963-) eilisen linnut/the birds of yesterday (1993-94) [7:25] Olli Koskelin (1955-) a planet silently breathing... (1992-93) [10:19] Magnus Lindberg (1958-) Away (1994) [5:23]
Avanti! Chamber Orchestra/Leif Segerstram, with Kari Krikku (clarinet) & Anssi Kartunen (cello)
Ondine ODE 855-2 [69.50]

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra [8:10]  Jukka Tiensuu (1948-) Puro, Clarinet Concerto [18:12] Jouni Kaipainen (1956-) Carpe diem!, Clarinet Concerto, Op. 38* [26:17]
Kari Kriikku, clarinet  Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra  Avanti! Chamber Orchestra * Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor
Ondine ODE 778-2  [53:07]

Magnus Lindberg Kinetics; Marea; Joy
Avanti! Chamber Orchestra/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Saraste
Ondine ODE 784-2 [50.03]


People who have enjoyed Magnus Lindberg's recent EMI CD (MotW ***** August 2000) may be confidently recommended to explore the rich vein of Finnish contemporary music further in these three CDs of recent music by him and his lesser known contemporaries.

The first of them, despite the unfamiliarity of nearly all the names, could be a very good way to start. They were received in a batch for review arising from S&H's attendance at the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra's Summer Sounds Festival at Porvoo. (The exclamation mark is part of this internationally respected orchestra's identity.) They tour widely and often take part in international festivals as ambassadors for their country's new music.

Lindberg's vitality has inspired many Finnish composers and he showed a new direction in his major work given in Porvoo. Included here is Away (1994), a typical short, concentrated Lindberg piece of the 1990s, with a rich orchestral palate and vigorous rhythmic drive, recognisable chordal sequences, and textures which may be dense, at other times sparkling and iridescent.

This collection, recorded to mark the 50th anniversary in 1995 of the Society of Finnish Composers, is of music for chamber orchestra by composers all born in the decade 1955-65. Their common denominator is to have moved away from melody and thematic development for their principal content, but that apart they show more diversity than similarity of musical language. They mostly do not espouse goal-directed ideals and the pieces are each ostensibly in single movements, though Tapio Tuomela's The Escape Ladder does have a symphonic mode of thought, 'with fast, slow and scherzoesque passages, climaxes and repetitions, climaxes and quiet interludes'. Texture is of over-riding importance for all the composers, but their moods are wide-ranging, from Koskelin's 'romantic sensuality' to Koskinen's 'resolute unsentimentality'. They have been characterised as tending towards a French affiliation and rejecting 'Teutonic' contrapuntal thinking. Structurally they often depend upon underlying harmonic sequences. None are of 'minimalist' persuasion, but Koskelin shows a liking for fifths and Tuomela for harmony rich in thirds. Veli-Matti Puumala is maybe the most extreme, his quarter-hour Ululation having as its lengthy centre 'howling, moaning, slithering' slow glissandi, which take some getting used to! Olli Kortekangas supplies an extended duo-concertante for solo clarinet & cello, the well-known Finnish soloists, both popular in their own country, combining in a series of unique and sharp gestures, exploiting advanced playing techniques.

Anssi Kartunen became artistic director of Avanti! in 1994, and Kari Krikku is also featured as concerto soloist in the next CD to be considered, with concertos by two leading Finnish composers, Jouni Kaipainen (b. 1956) and one of the next older generation, Jukka Tiensuu (b.1948) and Debussy's Rhapsody as fill-up.

Tiensuu is a truly remarkable musical polymath, composer, harpsichordist, writer and organiser. His Puro is replete with new effects which are assimilated and no longer sound freakish. Its sequence of sections plays continuously, with new timbres, micro-tones and aleotoric passages, with the soloist urging the orchestra to respond to his own striking gestures before he embarks non a lengthy improvised cadenza.

Carpe diem! (1990 - the Finns do like their exclamation marks!) is a three movement concerto lasting nearly half an hour, and one of the most successful of the early works by Kaipainen, a master of dodecaphony and of melody. It is cast in a serious vein and it too tests all the skills of Kari Krikku, requiring virtuosic agility and the ability to make clarinet chords, now a required part of the clarinettist's equipment, sound natural. The liner-notes writer characterises this aptly as needing 'not only a sound helping of Till Eulenspiegel but also a pinch of the Cantor of St. Thomas's'.

The orchestra displays close rapport in the unusual demands placed upon it and the direction of all three works is in the safe hands of Jukka-Pekka Saraste. The recordings are well balanced and of Ondine's usual high standard.

On the last of these CDs, Saraste is also in charge. It comprises three works, all completed 1989/90, which are regarded as a trilogy by the composer and by Jouni Kaipenen, his composer-colleague commentator for the disc. Kaipenen explains that organisation with 'foreground' and 'background' facilitates comprehension of the complex juxtaposed harmonies in Kinetics for large orchestra. Marea ('tide') is, possibly, easier to follow, its wave-like mechanism and strongly 'tonal' ending not unrelated to Debussy. Joy is the longest piece, with - unusual for Lindberg - some slow episodes. Only 50 minutes all told, but what eventful minutes they are!

Peter Grahame Woolf

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