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Toivo KUULA (1883-1918)
Complete Piano Works
Janne Oksanen (piano)
rec. 2019, Järvenpää Hall, Järvenpää, Finland
ALBA ABCD445 [80:03]

It was only in June 1919 that I reviewed Jouni Somero’s recording of the complete piano music of Toivo Kuula for FC-Records (FCRCD-97580), yet here, following Adam Johnson’s for Grand Piano (GP780), a recording I do not know, is the third recording of his piano music to appear in just over a year. Perhaps this is an indication of the growing appreciation of the music of the Finish composer, a pupil of Sibelius, who has had to wait for a hundred years for the first complete recording, and now we have three. Whatever, this music is varied and enjoyable with plenty here to delight, and I am happy that we now have the ability to compare and contrast the various recordings.

The first thing to notice is that this recording in contained on a single very well filled disc, Jouni Somero’s having been spread over two, which can be accounted for by Somero’s arrangement of a piece from the South Ostrobothnian Suite, although Oksanen does also tend to be fractionally quicker than Somero. However, this performance is never too quick, and it retains the attractive and melodic character of the music well. But like the Somero set, I found myself craving his larger works and I soon returned to his orchestral and choral music.

As with the FC-Records recording this disc opens with the Three Piano Pieces Op.3b, which contains one of the composer’s best-known works, Häämarssi or Wedding March, which he later orchestrated and which is a popular choice for Finnish couples, those who knows the Alba Legends disc (ABCD 264) will recognise. This piece, whilst hardly a march, its slow pace more of a saunter, is charming and instantly likable. From there on in the running orders diverge, with Janne Oksanen choosing to forgo the opus order as preferred and presented by Somero. Here we get the 2 Song Transcriptions, Op. 37 which contains some wonderful writing, whilst the Invention in E minor, a student piece, Kuula pays homage to J. S. Bach. The 6 Piano Pieces, Op.26 is the most varied of the composer’s piano works, various influences can be heard here including that of Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 in the second movement Pastoral. Another of his most famous piano pieces, Lampaanpolska, begins with a slow recalling of the famous ‘La Folia’ theme, before it is superseded by a series of four variations which end quite dramatically. The final work on this disc is the Fairytale Picture op.19, which Janne Oksanen, in his excellent booklet notes, describes as the nearest thing to a piano sonata the Kuula composed. Here the influence of Sibelius is felt most keenly, Kuula was after all the great man’s first composition pupil and is a wonderful way to end this disc and the survey of the composer’s piano music.

In comparison, despite my enjoyment of Jouni Somero’s recording, I find Janne Oksanen’s performance to be more concise and preferable, this is young man’s music, Kuula was only 35 when he was killed, and this is a more spirited and ‘young’ performance, one which makes the most of the Nordic fervour whilst leaning towards the French impressionists, and the young man making his mark in the world. The recorded sound is also better whilst the inclusion of the pianist's own excellent booklet notes make this new recording a real winner.

Stuart Sillitoe

Kolme pianokappaletta - 3 Piano Pieces, Op.3b (1906-1908)
No. 1 Elegia - Elegy [3:26]
No. 2 Häämarssi - Wedding March [5:02]
No. 3 Little Gavotte [3:22]
Kaksi pianokappaletta - 2 Song Transcriptions, Op.37 (1917)
No. 1 Virta venhettä - The Current Carries the Boat [4:05]
No. 2 Barcarolle [1:45]
Air varié in E minor (1908) [2:39]
Invention in E minor (c. 1906) [0:58]
Vanha syyslaulu - Old Autumn Song, Op.24 No.3 [1:30]
Schottis [3:12]
Juhlamarssi - Festive March, Op.13b (1910) [8:27]
Kuusi pianokappaletta - 6 Piano Pieces, Op.26 (1914-1916)
No. 1 Round Dance [1:21]
No. 2 Pastoral [3:47]
No. 3 Dance Improvisation [2:29]
No. 4 Nocturne [6:29]
No. 5 Adagio [3:50]
No. 6 Funeral March [6:22]
Lampaanpolska - La Folia (1915) [4:43]
Satukuva - Fairytale Picture op.19 (1912)
No. 1 Andante semplice [6:16]
No. 2 Presto - Andante tranquillo [5:14]
No. 3 Tranquillamente [5:13]

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