An Anthology of Finnish Piano Music - Volume 2

Oskar MERIKANTO (1868-1924)
Valse à la Chopin, op.6/5 (1898) [1:58]
Valse Lente, op.33 (1898) [3:19]
Edith SOHLSTRÖM (1870-1934)
Elegia [3:31]
Axel von KOTHEN (1871-1927)
Andante con moto, op.6/4 (1906) [4:49]
Impromptu, op.12/1 (?1908) [2:38]
Toivo SAARENPÄÄ (1882-1948)
Sinikellot Haudalla ('Graveside Bluebells'), op.9/2 [3:13]
Toivo KUULA (1883-1918)
Häämarssi ('Wedding March'), op.3/2 (1908) [5:27]
Lampaanpolska (1915) [5:22]
Heino KASKI (1885-1957)
Pankakoski, op.48/1 [3:09]
Lapsi Äitinsä Sylissä ('A Child on his Mother's Knee'), op.48/2 [4:19]
Walamo, op.48/3 [3:25]
Prelude in G flat, op.7/1 (1918) [3:24]
Armas MAASALO (1885-1960)
Hämärässä ('At Dusk'), op.1/1 [2:13]
Adieu, Amie, op.1/2 [3:41]
Chanson d'Amour, op.1/3 [1:49]
Two Dances, op.7 [4:10]
Carl HIRN (1886-1963)
Goldfisch, op.8 [1:42]
Aquarelle, op.60/2 [2:37]
Felix KROHN (1898-1963)
Vanhassa Puistossa ('In the Old Park') - Suite (1943) [10:20]
Ilmari HANNIKAINEN (1892-1955)
Keskustelu ('Conversation') op.11/3 (1915) [3:54]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Poleeni, Pieksämäki, Finland, 23-24 January 2005. DDD
This is the second of five volumes in the series by Finnish label FinnConcert (or FC-Records) entitled 'An Anthology of Finnish Piano Music', all performed by Finnish soloist Jouni Somero. The first volume was released in 2004 (FCRCD-9711) and the last in 2008 (FCRCD-9722). All are widely available on the internet.
This CD, which features half a dozen or so first recordings, is subtitled 'Morceaux de Salon', at least with partial justification: the average length of each track is only three minutes. On the other hand, as Somero points out in his notes, 'salon' is often used pejoratively, and indeed, FinnConcert's choice of subtitle may be considered rather self-defeating. In Finland no piano sonata tradition emerged in the 19th century in the way it did in many European countries - composers like Yrjö Kilpinen provided the odd exception - the focus instead being on short pieces and suites, as the five volumes in this series testify.
From Oskar Merikanto's opening Valse à la Chopin, it is clear that these pieces are more than amateur-oriented frivolities: for timeless, evocative lyricism, intimacy and sheer beautiful melody, Somero's recital is a corker. Most of the featured composers will very likely be unfamiliar to anyone outside Finland - Merikanto is perhaps the only exception - but despite Finland's geographical periphery, these pieces are very much in the European mould more famously represented, as far as mellifluous piano miniatures go, by Schumann, Grieg, Fauré, Tchaikovsky and Chopin.
Interestingly, all ten composers were born within thirty years of each other, half within only four years. Similarly, many of the pieces date back to the first two decades of the 20th century. Inevitably then, the music may begin to sound familiar after a while, and given the generosity of the timing, perhaps this is a disc best heard in two or three sittings - to lose interest on account of the relative lack of variety in the programme would be to do the craftsmanship that has gone into all these pieces a disservice.
According to the FinnConcert website - now at, rather than the indicated on the back inlay - Jouni Somero has given more than 2,400 concerts or recitals all over the world, and has made more than sixty recordings, from Bach to Bortkiewicz, though with an emphasis on Romantic repertoire that makes him very well versed in the particular demands of the type of music in this recital. On his Bortkiewicz recordings from the same time as this anthology series, Somero tends to be rather heavy-handed and sometimes perfunctory, but although he does clearly have a penchant for forte dynamics, there is also pathos in his playing that brings out the poignancy and nostalgia inherent in these pieces.
Recording quality is good, if just a little quiet. FinnConcert are never going to win prizes for their CD booklets - the tree and bit of shed in the cover photo are not especially Finnish or arty - but Somero himself supplies one or two paragraphs on each of the composers, both in Finnish and English, turning up some interesting biographical curiosities, such as the fact that Toivo Saarenpää's composition teacher was Sibelius, Edith Sohlström was not a professional composer or pianist, but a gym teacher, and Axel von Kothen toured as a composer-singer even though he had been confined to a wheelchair since boyhood! Somero's own biographical note seems to be identical in every CD he appears on. His trademark awkward 'family snapshot' photo is at least small and relegated to the back inlay.
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Timeless, evocative lyricism, intimacy and sheer beautiful melody, Somero's recital is a corker.