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Toivo KUULA (1883-1918)
Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 1 (1907) [28:40]
Five Pieces, Op. 3a (1903-07) [15:12]
Ut min väg i världen går (I go my way into the world) (arr. for violin and piano) (1899) [1:08]
Elä itke impeni nuori (Cry not, young maiden) (arr. for violin and piano) (1901) [1:03]
Violin Sonata in F Major (1906) [10:21];
Two Pieces, Op. 22 (1910) [8:32]
South Ostrobothnian Suite No. 1, Op. 9 (1906) [2:07]
Kesäilta (Summer Evening) (1907) [1:59]
Nina Karmon (violin)
Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. 2017, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln
CPO 555 148-2 [69:02]

It was only a month or so ago that I heard Grand Piano's CD of young Kuula's solo piano music. We are now introduced to this Finnish composer's works for violin and piano. That he died young is well enough known but the downside of that aspect is that collections such as this run the risk of being thought of as juvenile barrel-scrapings. My experience of this seventy-minute collection is quite otherwise. This music is passionate, self-possessed and not at all salon trivia. The performances by Karmon and Triendl - the latter a familiar name from his many CDs for CPO - are instrumental in getting this deserving music across without apologia and instead with glowing confidence. Kuula, like his teacher Sibelius, cherished the violin as a career and did this in parallel with asserting a composer's place. This is evidenced in his very masterful writing for the instrument. It is even stronger here than in the far from inconsiderable piano music.

Silver and mercury of Karmon's sound is immediately apparent in the Violin Sonata in E Minor. This is a joy to hear in a Sonata that combines elements of Grieg, Mendelssohn and Sibelius. It's a three-movement half-hour structure that never lets slip its grip on the attention. Coincidence or not, but parts of this first movement have some heroically Rachmaninov-like pages. A reverential Adagio precedes a pearly, heartfelt and quickly impassioned finale. The Five Pieces comprise a serenade Kehtolaulu, a dark-hued Notturno, two pieces called Kansanlaulu, one an icily slow lament and the other funereal but not depressing. The set ends with a joyfully steely Scherzino. They are reminiscent of Sibelius's Humoresques and Serenades. Ut min väg i världen går should really have been taken up by Kreisler if only he had known about it. Much the same applies to the easy-going lower key Elä itke impeni nuori. The Violin Sonata in F Major is a ten-minute single movement with all the lunging, emotive and serenading strengths of the E minor Sonata. The Two Pieces, written in 1910, are the latest works here and comprise a moonlit Joululaulu and a slowly pirouetting and deeply thoughtful Suru. The closest Kuula approaches to salon shallows is in the charming and spirited little Pohjolan Dance (South Ostrobothnian Suite No. 1). This continues in the Shenandoah-like and sentiment-saturated hymnal Kesäilta (nary a dry eye in the house) with which the recital ends.

Kuula is otherwise known for some orchestral collections (Alba, Ondine and Dutton Epoch). There are 24 solo songs, of which all but eight are on Marco Polo . His most extensive choral-orchestral work Orjan poika Op.14 (1910) appeared on BBC Radio 3's Through the Night (23 August 2018) with the Suomen Laula Choir and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jussi Jalas.

There's a good generous silence between each piece. This is one of the little marks of an artistic hand on the tiller at CPO. Six pages of liner-notes for this CPO disc are well worth having and they are given in German and English. Their author is Norbert Florian Schuck.

We will surely hear more from the spirited Triendl but Karmon has proved her mettle as well. We can, I hope, expect more recordings from her and, on this showing, they are unlikely to be met with anything other than joy.

Rob Barnett


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