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Finland 100 - A Century of Finnish Classics
A collection celebrating 100 years of Finland's independence
ONDINE ODE1300-2Q [5 CDs: 339:44]

2017 marked the centenary of Finland’s independence. This 5-CD collection encompasses works by native composers. The music spans the period from 1917 to the recent present. It reflects the flourishing vigour, talent, artistry and experimentation of Finland’s classical music scene. The collection is built around and circumscribed by the Ondine catalogue and Finnish musicians. It does not claim to be representative - whatever that word means in this context - but it certainly ranges freely across times and styles. It is stimulating, should incite further pleasure in exploration and also fends off the obvious. The discs break down into two orchestral and one each for concertos, vocal works and chamber music. Each CD is in its own, sturdier than usual, card sleeve inside a cap box.

The liner booklet is in English and Finnish and the same booklet gives the lyrics in the sung Finnish and Swedish and in English translation. There are pictures of all the composers and there's a good extended 13-page essay by Kimmo Korhonen. Plenty of attention is paid to detail and even the CD readouts are meticulous with name of composer and name and date of piece. This is fine advocacy aimed at an audience beyond Finland and everything is in English and Finnish. The selection has been made on the basis of whole works and whole movements or songs from larger pieces. There are no fadings-out, no cliff-edge stops and no artificial falls into silence.

The first disc (orchestral) starts with Sibelius but a comparatively light piece: the Andante festivo which, in this version, combines a sense of cathedral spaces and the human voice. It has intimacy and gentle companionship about it. Next, Sibelius' friend, the conductor-composer, Robert Kajanus. His Overtura sinfonica blends turbulence and moonlit romance. Madetoja's Second Symphony - especially the magically poised opening - is one of my inheritance tracks. His Sunday Morning from Rural Pictures is both temperate and calming. Lesser known is Ernest Pingoud. Chantecler, with its wild woodwind cries is the most advanced-sounding music so far, despite its 1918 origin. It's in a taut and rapped out performance. Väinö Raitio is another richly talented but neglected figure. The mystically translucent Fantasia Poetica is superbly orchestrated and will appeal to those who enjoy their early Stravinsky and Griffes or Baines. Turning next to another giant, Uuno Klami whose strengths were at high noon before French influences started to seep in and tweaked his individuality. The denser textures of his Karelian Rhapsody have mystery amid upsurges of sound. The style is close to his more famous Kalevala Suite. If you are already won over by Bax's Spring Fire and Ireland's Forgotten Rite then you will like this but do get to hear his Psalmus and Kalevala Suite too. From that suite we get The Forging of the Sampo which is impressionistic and, in its heavily swaying Sibelian progress, makes the piece a companion to Frank Bridge's Enter Spring. The three little pieces from Melartin's ballet are skilled but lighter fare. Cuckoo evocations are there as is a Delian sweetness, a wind-machine in The Tempest (where else?) and a curvaceous solo violin paragraph. Attractive as these may be, they should not blind you to the much more compelling discoveries to be made in his six symphonies which have been recorded by Ondine. Before we leave Melartin let me also recommend his 1913 violin concerto as played on a 1999 Ondine CD by someone we now know as a conductor, John Storgårds (ODE 923-2). Aaare Merikanto's Intrada has a striding confidence but we end with Einar Englund's The Reindeer Ride (Poroajot) from the film The White Reindeer. This has a fast tick-over and Petrushkan accents. Englund's Violin Concerto can be heard with the Klami concerto on another Ondine disc.

The second kicks off with a very unfamiliar name: that of Heikki Aaltoila. The swish and rustle of his plush waltz from Under the North Star (film music, 1968) has midnight sun and romance in spades; perhaps an echo too of Lara's theme from Dr Zhivago. More spine, and certainly spikier, is to be found in Sallinen's Wedding Procession from The Iron Age suite. Nordgren's Duo from Cronaca juxtaposes acidic angular solo string writing with a kaleidoscope of agreeably unfocused sound. Kaipainen's Sisyphus Dreams turns and twirls but make no mistake, the atmosphere is minatory and saw-toothed.

Saariaho's Laterna Magica from 2008 deserves a prize for an allusive title. It sets itself a familiar challenge: that of reflecting a visual reference in sound. This Magic Lantern is the title of film-maker Bergman's autobiography. A modernistic piece, it's strong on atmosphere rather than melody; one of longest durations here. It will take me more than a couple of listenings to stand a chance of getting to grips with it but I can say that the music is very lucidly laid out and rich in incident. Lastly, there's Magnus Lindberg's Era. This is a sonorous work which spoke to me more immediately than the Saariaho. It is alive with a rippling flood of ideas. It's accessible but has that imposing strangeness that has you wondering what is around the next corner. Crudely put - and that's all I can muster - it reminds me of Scriabin meets Bax and Sibelius but all through the otherworldly alembic of today. It was written in 2012. It is, I suppose, a bit of a ramble but one that holds the listener - a rapturous tone poem of a piece. The closest I can come among contemporary comparators is David Matthews in his Chandos disc. One feels the imagination of this music and it reaches across a narrower chasm than the Saariaho and Kaipainen.

The third disc is allotted to three complete concertos and a concertante miniature. Merikanto's Piano Concerto No. 2 dates from the 1930s. It's in that idiom close to Ravel, a little like the Paris-based concertos of Uuno Klami; so different from Klami's nationalist productions. The Merikanto is rhythmically agreeable and the orchestral style recalls that imbibed and subsumed by Laszlo Lajtha. At times it is somewhat romantic, especially in the musings of the middle movement. There are Petrushka-like revels in the last movement. While this work finally takes on an unmistakably sovereign air it remains distant from his nationalist masterwork, the opera Juha.

Thirty years later came Kokkonen's Cello Concerto. This takes the concerto away from Gallic frolics and cosmopolitan romance. Here the language looks to radiant nature-painting and warmly cloaked rhythmic invention. Kokkonen like Sallinen is one of Finland's finest.

Rautavaara has written some fairly uncompromising twelve-tone music. I can remember recoiling from the Third Symphony and Violin Concerto on first hearing them. The Cantus Arcticus - a very different proposition - was an Oulu University commission. It is for orchestra and recorded birds. The three movements are very successful and Rautavaara made a success out of a tricky format juxtaposing bird-song, recorded in the field, with an impressionistic romantic nature score. Even more so than Hovhaness in And God Created Great Whales, this is a triumph. It communicates the blessed loneliness of the outdoors and reassuringly convinces man how insignificant he is in relation to Creation.

Finally comes pianist-composer Olli Mustonen's Frogs Dancing on Water Lilies. It is laid out for cello and orchestra. It's partly neo-Baroque and in part ecstatic and warmly embraced in the impressionistic caste of Madetoja's Second Symphony.

The fourth CD is dedicated to the human voice. About one third of its duration is given over to Sibelius songs with orchestra and the whole disc is allocated to songs for voice and orchestra.

The Sibelius songs variously orchestrated by Jalas, Fougstedt, Pingoud and Sibelius is a showcase for Soile Isokoski's voice, one of lavish tone and operatic bearing. The six songs here come from a disc issued in the 2000s. They are broodily inward rather than brilliant.

Matti Salminen then impresses imposingly with songs by Turunen and Kilpinen. The piercing drama of Summer Night is certainly memorable in Fougstedt's orchestration. The surf surges and sways in Turunen's Sunday. The music is gloriously orchestrated by Kallevi Olli who also lends wings to two traditional settings. Olli demonstrates a great sense of staging music to embrace the listener from the outset. Salminen shows an affinity with Benjamin Luxon in the Stanford-like sparks, lightning bolts and glimmers of I'll walk around this here village.

Karita Mattila, another international great, is distantly recorded in a song from Madetoja's louring song-cycle Autumn. I wish we could have had the whole cycle; there was room.

Jorma Hynninen is a favourite of mine from the Berglund recording of Kullervo in 1971 but the Linnavuori setting seems quite conventional, although rounded enough.

Olli's perceptive orchestrational hand shows through again in Heino Kaski's Sibelian ballad After You Went Away. Ikonen's My room is growing dark is suitably mournful. Hynninen is distantly placed in two songs from Rautavaara's 1995 opera Aleksis Kivi. Like Mattila, heard earlier, he sounds as if singing from the wings of some elaborate cavern. The style belies the date of 1995-96.

Anu Komsi is the singer in works with an emotional "slow simmer" The settings she selects sport plenty of silence and careful and sophisticated choices. It is by no means as difficult to come to terms with as Laterna Magica of only one year later.

The final CD explores chamber music from Finland. Sallinen's Chamber Music II is a single quarter-hour movement in which an alto flute figures. The invention is emotionally constrained and the score ends with blistering acceleration and the sense of taking flight. There are some Sibelian flavours peeping through Sallinen's weave.

Englund's half-hour, four-movement violin sonata of 1979 is a work written after a ten-year fallow period. It is rhapsodic, intense, quite densely lyrical and sings to the skies. It strangely recalls the lyrical romantic violin sonatas of Howells and Ireland. There are more than several moments when Englund seems to show affection for the sentimentality of 1970s cinema music. This can be felt especially at the start of the Elegia, written in memory of the composer's brother.

Tienssuu's shivering Plus II is a triumph of atmosphere. The atmosphere is so dense-intense that it could be cut with a machete. By contrast with the Englund it is not a backward-looking work.

Mustonen conducts his own four-movement Nonet No. 2, a work written in 2000 when he was a confident 33. It trades a nice line in Shostakovich-style rhythmic belligerence and grave expression in the Inquieto. The music floods along with singing Beethovenian power in the Allegro Impetuoso. The whole work looks back to, and slightly transforms, earlier models from the 19th century. There's a vigorous mind at work here.

Rautavaara's Summer Thoughts is part of a whole disc reflecting the composer's rather romantic nature-loving works for piano and violin. It's awash in memories from which images are constantly sparked off and fade and renew themselves.

Saariaho's Tocar - the Spanish word for "to touch" and "to play" - is about inter-relationship. It's an enigmatic work which inhabits a realm of indirect speech, pensive modernity, fragile worlds of the imagination and thorny impressionism. This is not a work of obvious emotions.

I couldn't take issue, in any way, with this production except perhaps that the discs could have been more tightly packed.

Rob Barnett

CD 1 Finnish Orchestral Works I [74:47]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Andante festivo (1922) [3:44]
Robert KAJANUS (1856-1933)
Overtura sinfonica [9:10]
Leevi MADETOJA (1887-1947)
Sunday Morning from Rural Pictures [4:20]
Ernest PINGOUD (1887-1942)
Chantecler, Op. 15 (1918) [7:33]
Väinö RAITIO (1891-1945)
Fantasia Poetica, Op. 25 (1923) [10:00]
Uuno KLAMI (1900-1961)
Karelian Rhapsody, Op. 15 [14:24]
Erkki MELARTIN (1875-1937)
Music from the ballet The Blue Pearl, Op. 160 II. Entrée avec pantomime 4:00 VIII. Scène (Tempête) 2:32 Pas de deux 3:07
Aarre MERIKANTO (1893-1958)
Intrada [5:40]
Uuno KLAMI (1900-1961)
Kalevala Suite, Op. 23 (1943) The Forging of the Sampo [7:24]
Einar ENGLUND (1916-1999)
The Reindeer Ride (Poroajot), from the film The White Reindeer [1:24]

CD 2 Finnish Orchestral Works II [66:42]
Heikki AALTOILA (1905-1992)
Akselin ja Elinan häävalssi [3:53]
Aulis SALLINEN (b.1935)
The Iron Age Suite (Rauta-aika-sarja): The Wedding Procession of Ilmari and the Golden Woman [1:58]
Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (1944-2008)
Cronaca for string orchestra, Op. 79 (1991) [5:30]
Jouni KAIPAINEN (b.1956)
Sisyphus Dreams, Op. 47 (1994) [10:36]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b.1952)
Laterna Magica (2008) [23:27]
Magnus LINDBERG (b.1958)
Era [20:19]

CD 3 Finnish Concertos [68:29]
Aarre MERIKANTO (1893-1958)
Piano Concerto No. 2 [23:14]
Joonas KOKKONEN (1921-1996)
Cello Concerto (1969) [22:11]
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Concerto for Birds and Orchestra "Cantus Arcticus" (1972) [19:21]
Olli MUSTONEN (b.1967)
Frogs Dancing on Water Lilies for cello and string orchestra (2000) [3:08]

CD 4 Finnish Vocal Works [58:04]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Demanten på marssön (The diamond on the March snow), Op. 36/6 [2:37]
Under strandens granar, Op. 13/1 [5:10]
Men min fågel märks dock icke, Op. 36/2 [2:47]
Den första kyssen (The First Kiss), Op. 37/1 [1:58]
Var det en dröm (Did I Just Dream?), Op. 37/4 [2:22]
Kaiutar, Op. 72/4 [3:06]
Yrjö KILPINEN (1892-1959)
Kesäyö (Summer Night) [2:21]
Vanha kirkko (The Old Church), Op. 54/1 [3:13]
Rannalta I (From the Shore I) [3:40]
Martti TURUNEN (1902-1979)
Sunnuntai (Sunday) [3:28]
Tuuli se taivutti koivun larvan (The Wind Bent Down) [2:53]
Niin kauan minä tramppaan (I'll Walk Around This Here Village) [1:09]
Leevi MADETOJA (1887-1947)
Luulit, mä katselin sua (You Thought I Was Watching You) [2:49]
Lintu sininen (Bluebird) [2:13]
Frans LINNAVUORI (1880-1926)
Minä laulan sun iltasi tähtihin (I Sing for Your Evening The Starlight) [1:36]
Heino KASKI (1885-1957)
Lähdettyäs (After You Went Away) [2:18]
Lauri IKONEN (1888-1966)
Pirtissäni pimenee (My Room Is Growing Darker) [2:44]
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Aleksis Kivi - Opera in Three Acts (1996): Melancholy (Ikävyys) [3:42]; Song of My Heart (Sydämeni laulu) [3:36]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b.1952)
Leino Songs (2007) - Looking at You (Sua katselen) [2:58]

CD 5 Finnish Chamber Works [71:42]
Aulis SALLINEN (b.1935)
Chamber Music II, Op. 41 for alto flute and string orchestra (1976) [14:58]
Einar ENGLUND (1916-1999)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1979) [20:32]
Jukka TIENSUU (b.1948)
Plus II, for clarinet and cello (1992) [9:14]
Olli MUSTONEN (b.1967)
Nonet No. 2 (2000) [14:31]
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Summer Thoughts, for violin and piano (1972/2008) [4:34]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b.1952)
Tocar for violin and piano (2010) [7:09]


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