Aho studied under Rautavaara but shows more evidence of Shostakovich’s influence. There are echoes of Ives, too: in these works he never uses such extreme harmonic clashes as Ives, but there are occasional, almost subliminal glimpses of familiar-sounding tunes that flash across the sky before plunging into the heaving ocean of the main development.
The single-movement First Chamber Symphony, written while Aho was working on his Fifth Symphony, uses some of the same concepts, notably highly-complicated, multi-layered polyphony. A serene, if rather melancholy, andante introduction is interrupted by agitated figures. At the climax, the 20 string-players pursue individual lines. The coda is quiet and rather eerie, like the point at dusk when birds fall quiet.
The tightly-argued Second, with a dense, tense, furioso final movement includes moments of lush harmony and voluptuous melody that startlingly recall Vaughan Williams. And this piece places exceptionally high demands on the players. As in all three Symphonies, spotlighted players and the ensemble meet the challenges with skill and conviction. And the opening of the Third, too, is as full of passion as of technical fireworks and structural fascination. Aho shows he understands the saxophone’s capabilities, inventively blending and contrasting it with the strings.