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Songs of Late Summer
Sami Luttinen (bass)
Tuula Hällström (piano)
rec. 2017, Reitstadel, Neumarkt i.d. Oberpfalz
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
ALBA ABCD427 [54:52]

There are, as far as I can find, no direct connections between the two song-cycles recorded here. The composers, although both are/were Finnish, belong to different generations, as do the poets. One of the poets is Finnish, the other Swedish and the themes for the cycles are not, on the surface at least, connected. The only obvious common denominator is the singer, a juicy, full-bodied deep bass, and Mikko Heiniö originally wrote his cycle for a deep bass voice with piano but later transposed it “to make it accessible to a baritone and orchestrated it”. The version recorded here is, in other words, a return to his first thoughts. The Kilpinen cycle, on the other hand, was originally composed for a middle-range voice, but in the 1950s the great Finnish bass Kim Borg added some of them to his repertoire and also recorded them in a lower register. Later he also made orchestral arrangements of them for his own use. This inspired Sami Luttinen to study the whole cycle and, as soon as he had decided that the songs were his cups of tea, had them transposed for bass. Some of them were dropped as much as a fourth, but most of them a third or a second. Having long known and admired Kim Borg’s recording of Som ett blommande mandelträd and Om tiotusen år I was of course keen to get acquainted with the rest of the cycle, in particular since Pär Lagerkvist, the Nobel Prize Winning poet of the whole cycle, is a great favourite of mine. His poems have been set by many others, most famously perhaps by Gunnar de Frumerie, whose Hjärtats sånger (Songs of the Heart) (1942) are often performed in Scandinavia.

Lassi Nummi (1928 – 2012) is likewise a poet who is very close to Mikko Heiniö’s heart and they have cooperated several times. “A great poet both in what he says and how he says it”, as Heiniö expresses it in the liner notes. Nummi had musical connections, his brother was Seppo Nummi (1932 – 1981), an important composer (who incidentally studied with Yrjö Kilpinen) and administrator, who for ten years was manager of the Helsinki Festival.

The name for the cycle, Song of Late Summer, was suggested by Lassi Nummi, and he wanted it to be in the singular, to underline the homogeneous entity of the texts, and this is also mirrored in the music, where the individual songs follow suit, only separated by piano interludes. The piano part is expressive, the vocal line sometimes fragmentary, but there is a strong feeling of entity even so. The songs are not immediately catchy but they grow on you and the dynamic reading makes them fascinating and attractive. “The lowest male voice appealed to me as a means of expressing sensitive, intimate feelings”, says Heiniö, and in Sami Luttinen he has found the ideal interpreter. He is Finnish by birth but has since many years been active in various German opera houses. His voice is a true Basso profondo, monumental and with the genuine pitch-black quality that is a rarity today. Since he also has the ability to encompass the upper register without losing in quality he is as complete a bass singer as possible. Finland is famous for great basses: Kim Borg, Martti Talvela, Matti Salminen, Jaakko Ryhänen and Jyrki Korhonen – and Sami Luttinen is a worthy representative of that company.

Heiniö was a new name to me, and hearing these songs made me wanting to explore more of his oeuvre. Kilpinen is a better-known quantity, and in the 1930s and 1940s he was a much heralded composer, not least in Germany, where he lived for many years. At that time he was, next to Sibelius, the most prominent Finnish composer internationally. His production of songs was enormous, he challenged and even surpassed Schubert in quantity. After the war he more or less fell into oblivion, mostly due to his alleged Nazi sympathies. Now, 60 years after his death, there seems to be a certain Kilpinen renaissance – and the quality of many of his songs has no doubt triggered a new interest. Many of his songs are still unpublished. Since he was fluent in Finnish, Swedish and German, he composed numerous songs in all three languages. Many of the 15 Lagerkvist songs that constitute the cycle Reflexer (Reflections) – composed in 1922, the year after the poems were issued – have been recorded before but this is the first recording of the complete cycle. Kilpinen’s musical language isn’t easily digested, his harmonies are often knotty, sometimes bordering on atonality, but like Heiniö’s cycle they open themselves with repeated acquaintance. Many of them are solemn and rather dark, reflecting the dark poetry of Lagerkvist, who during the early 1920s was in a tumultuous state of mind, having recently married but after a short time broke the relation and went into exile. The darkness is further stressed through the black bass voice. But there is some reconciliation towards the end of the cycle, where the piano part is lighter and airier.

I can’t say that I have digested either of the cycles after two listening sessions, but the songs have slowly opened up and I will certainly return to them. Readers unfamiliar with either or both of the composers should at least give the disc a listen – and whatever the reactions to the music, they will experience a truly magnificent basso cantante in majestic readings. Tuula Hällström’s piano playing is admirable and the recording is excellent.

Göran Forsling

Mikko HEINIÖ (b. 1948)
Syyskesän laulu, Op. 89a* (Song of Late Summer) Texts: Lassi Nummi (2008) [22:14]
1. Suuri valo (Great Light) [1:58]
2. Kun saavumme tähän hetkeen (When We Arrive in This Moment) [3:40]
3. Tämä outo seutu [This Strange Land) [1:33]
4. Virran partaalla (By the Stream) [2:52]
5. Välimeri (The Mediterranean) [5:52]
6. Taivaalla kun (The Moon in the Sky) [2:22]
7. Syyskesa (Late Summer) [4:03]
Yrjö KILPINEN (1892 – 1959)
Reflexer, Op. 33-34** (Reflections) Texts: Pär Lagerkvist (1922) [32:23]
8. I. Mitt liv går bort* (My life goes away [2:35]
9. II. Var är den djupa glädje (Where is the deep gladness) [2:21]
10. III. Som ett blommande mandelträd (Like a blooming almond tree) [1:48]
11. IV. Din mun är ljusare än min (Your mouth is brighter than mine) [1:49]
12. V. Det är du som skall bliva den yppersta (It is you who shall be the foremost) [2:06]
13. VI. En gång skall det brinna ett ljus* (One day there shall burn a candle) [1:30]
14. VII. Om tiotusen år (After ten thousand years) [1:50]
15. VIII. Barn som jag smekt* (Child whom I caressed) [1:48]
16. IX. Ett enda ord är mitt* (I have only one word) [2:12]
17. X. Hela världen är mig så kär* (Whole world is so dear to me) [1:58]
18. XI. Ingenting får störa vår stund* (Nothing may disturb our mutual hour) [2:36]
19. XII. Regnet slår och slår (Rain lashes endlessly) [2:05]
20. XIII. O vinternatt (O winter night) [2:09]
21. XIV. Så gamla äro alla moln (So ancient are all the clouds) [3:06]
22. XV. Befriad är dagen* (The day is liberated) [2:27]
* World premiere recording ** World premiere recording as a cycle

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