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Toivo KUULA (1883–1918) Complete Works for Solo Piano
Adam Johnson (piano)
rec. 2017, The Old Chapel, Yorke Trust, South Creake, UK GRAND PIANO GP780 [80:17]
Kuula was a student of Sibelius. Like Sibelius, he was familiar with
the harmonium and was far from being a total abstainer. He died very
young in a fight in a drinking house. Kuula's music has already
built a slim reputation and his early death and the works he left behind
are such that his works were expected to vie with those of Sibelius
if only he had lived. Who knows? We can only work with what he left
Kuula is otherwise known for a couple of orchestral collections (Ondine
Epoch). There are 24 solo songs, of which all but eight are on a
Polo disc. His most extensive (25 minutes) choral-orchestral work
Orjan poika Op.14 (1910) had its place 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.
This piano music, with its resemblances to Debussy and Baines,
rather defies the Finnish composer's image: he of the deep set
brooding eyes and beetling resentful brows. There is a slowly evolving
sadness in these scores but nothing to match that image.
Johnson and Toccata furnish the listener with a complete picture of
his piano output. Satukuvia pianolle (Three Folk-Tale Pictures)
please with their examples of cut-glass gentle, splendid racing shrapnel
and a very romantic and calculated Tranquillamento. This is
followed, from a decade earlier, by Three Piano Pieces which
are slow in pace and almost fragile. The Festive March rumbles
along in the depths: a stiff-necked strut delivered with great confidence.
The charmingly named Lampaanpolska (Dance of the Sheep) seems
to depict some rather sad livestock and their dance is in slow motion
at first but becomes gradually more animated. Air varié in E Minor,
"Variations on a Finnish Air" sounds more aptly nationalistic
and rather like an anthem. Scottish Dance is sturdy and spry.
It feels like an approach to popular material for an "at home"
and perhaps would be easily set for cutting for pianola. The 'late'
Six Piano Pieces, Op. 26 include a playful Round Dance,
a lightly limned and icily calculated Pastoral Atmosphere,
a smart and vigorous Dance Improvisation that ends stern and
brave and a slow and strangely noble Nocturne, which seems
strenuously carved out of recalcitrant material. The set ends with an
angry and crestfallen Funeral March. The Two Song Transcriptions
are dark with an insistent, icicle-sharp ostinato and a Barcarolle
which is sorrowing, dreamy and tearful. An Old Autumn Song
is dignified and slow (a common impression given off by these pieces).
The recital ends with a Bachian and machine-like Invention.
The pianist, Adam Johnson writes that he ‘was introduced to the
music of Toivo Kuula in 2016 when I was sent the new edition of Nocturne
(or Jouluyö). I was immediately struck by the vast scope of the writing
and the space. The more I was sent, the more I was then intrigued by
the variety, harmony and imagination of such pieces as Satukuvia, Op.
19, and the light-hearted Schottis and Tanssi-improvisaatio. I have
performed full recitals of Toivo Kuula’s works in London venues
(including St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square), to delighted
audiences, and I have discovered that the reaction to his music is that
it is of great beauty and fascination, and stimulates a desire to hear
more of Kuula’s work.’
Kuula (and Johnson) benefit from a clear and natural piano sound and
an artless booklet intro by the pianist. The very full notes by Tero
Tommila of the Kuula Society are also an asset to the disc. Intro and
notes are in English and Finnish.
Disc contents Satukuvia pianolle (Folk-Tale Pictures), Op. 19 (1912) [15:11]
(No. 1. Andante semplice [5:33]; No. 2. Presto [4:19]; No. 3. Tranquillamento
[5:14] Three Piano Pieces, Op. 3b (1906-08) [13:05] (No. 1. Elegia
(Elegy) [4:26]; No. 2. Häämarssi (Wedding March) [5:23]; No. 3. Pikku
gavotti (Little Gavotte) [3:10] Juhlamarssi (Festive March), Op. 13b (1910) [9:24] Lampaanpolska (Dance of the Sheep) (1915) [4:14] Air varié in E Minor, "Variations on a Finnish Air"
(c. 1900) [2:12] Schottis (Scottish Dance) (c. 1904) [3:26] Six Piano Pieces, Op. 26 (1913–16) (No. 1. Piirileikki
(Round Dance) [1:29]; No. 2. Paimentunnelma (Pastoral Atmosphere) [3:41];
No. 3. Tanssi - improvisaatio (Dance Improvisation) [2:31]; No. 4. Nocturne
(formerly known as Jouluyö - ’Christmas Night’ or ‘Holy
Night’) [5:27]; No. 5. Rauha (Peace) [3:49]; No. 6. Surumarssi
(Funeral March) [6:22]) Two Song Transcriptions op. 37 (1917) [5:21] (Virta venhettä
vie (The Current Carries the Boat), Op. 4, No. 5b (1907) [3:25];
Venelaulu (Barcarolle), Op. 21, No. 2b (1912) [1:56]) Vanha syyslaulu (An Old Autumn Song), Op. 24, No. 3b [1:39] Invention in E Minor (c. 1905) [1:19]
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