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Kimmo HAKOLA (b.1958)
Guitar Concerto (2008) [37:17] Toshio HOSOKAWA (b.1955)
Voyage IX, 'Awakening', for guitar and strings with percussion (2007) [15:48]
Blossoming II, for chamber orchestra (2011) [11:55]
Timo Korhonen (guitar)
Oulu Symphony Orchestra/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
rec. Madetoja Hall, Oulu, Finland, 22-25 October 2012. ONDINE ODE 1219-2 [65:00]
On the face of it, Kimmo Hakola and Toshio Hosokawa have little in common, apart from their generation. What unites them for this recent Ondine recording, in fact, is Finnish guitarist Timo Korhonen, to whom they dedicate their Guitar Concerto and Voyage IX respectively.
A decade ago BIS (CD-1379/80) placed a viola piece by Hosokawa alongside works by Penderecki, Kurtág, Ligeti, Nørgård and Schnittke, giving the listener a good idea of his modernist credentials. However, Hosokawa counts Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert among his favourite composers. Whilst it would be grossly misleading to suggest any of these have an obvious influence on either Voyage IX or Blossoming II, there is plenty of evidence that Hosokawa's modus operandi is more audience-friendly than that of many of his contemporaries. Of the latter work, which has no role for Korhonen's guitar, Hosokawa says he imagined a lotus blossom and that "the flower and I are one; the awakening of the flower represents the rebirth of the self". Korhonen himself describes it as a "piece that seems to want to coalesce into a single moment, a single mood where time has stopped." Neither view is especially enlightening, it must be said, although they do both perhaps suggest ethereality, something that the work's swirling, swishing but calm tones evoke.
In Voyage IX Hosokawa again imagines a lotus flower, this time represented by the guitar; the strings, intriguingly, are its pond. Mud comes into the picture too at certain points, but ultimately "the awakening of the flower represents my self-purification, my self-awakening." The orchestral contribution is not too different from the one heard on Blossoming II, but the guitar is used for more traditional sounds. Whether Hosokawa's Buddhist requirements are met or not, the overall effect is attractive and often quite delicate, the music itself more approachable than, say, Takemitsu's for guitar.
Kimmo Hakola is a more immediately accessible composer, his stylistic eclecticism in this case leading to a Guitar Concerto that draws heavily on familiar Spanish elements, both from the twentieth century and from an earlier age. The lovely valedictory tune towards the end of the middle movement wafts in on a balmy Mediterranean breeze, almost cinematic in scope and as memorable as any by Rodrigo. Meanwhile, the opening of the final movement is utterly unique in the repertoire: entitled 'Ghetto', it begins with a burst of applause which soon becomes the rhythmic clapping and vocalisations associated with flamenco. Castanets and guitar add to the effect, all the while accompanied by orchestral interjections. With its sudden ending too, this is a strange but daring, and tuneful, work.
The Concerto is also one of the largest of its type, running to well over half an hour and demanding great stamina of its performer, as well as considerable technical prowess. Hakola actually wrote the work for Korhonen however, tailoring it to fit his style and many strengths. Korhonen does have a slightly annoying habit of humming/grunting in places, but the intrusion is fairly minimal, and easily forgiven when the playing is so idiomatic.
The Oulu Symphony Orchestra are based just outside the Arctic Circle and consequently not so well known further south, but it ought to be - their performances here are terrific. Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali is still young - though not as young as the booklet photo makes him look. That said, he has full command of these demanding scores. Sound quality is very good indeed. Though slim, the English-Finnish booklet covers the bases, combining concise but informative notes and performer biographies with simple design.