Rautavaara: Aleksis Kivi

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Aleksis Kivi
PERFORMER: Jorma Hynninen, Lasse Pöysti, Eeva-Liisa Saarinen, Helena Juntunen, Gabriel Suovanen, Marcus Groth; Jyväskylä Sinfonia/Markus Lehtinen
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1000-2D
Einojuhani Rautavaara’s latest opera could hardly wish for a better performance, and nor will it probably receive one. Where many of the remarkable ‘fur-hat’ operas Finland has produced deal with universal themes that ought to – but do not necessarily –guarantee them wide appeal, the subject here of Finland’s first novelist is just too narrowly nationalistic to have much chance outside its native country. It is indeed a pity that the writings of Kivi (1834-72) are not better known, and his tragic life has operatic potential, but Rautavaara’s work is little help.

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The 75-year-old composer, whose mystical Romanticism both makes him a maverick on the Finnish music scene and ensures him wide appeal, writes warm and even vivid music. Yet if not actually undramatic it can be unvaried, and the result in Aleksis Kivi (premiered at Savonlinna in 1997) is a collage of scenes rather than compelling theatre. Still, the non-chronological structure employed to show the writer’s disintegrating mind is not as problematic as the generalised wash of sound produced by the small ensemble of strings, percussion, two clarinets and synthesizer.

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Under Markus Lehtinen’s baton, the cast is more or less that of the premiere. Like countless other Finnish operas, this was written for the great baritone Jorma Hynninen, and he gives a rugged yet eloquent account of the title role. Eeva-Liisa Saarinen is sympathetic as Kivi’s patroness Charlotta, and Helena Juntunen is bright as her assistant Hilda. But even on disc one can hear that the spoken role of Ahlqvist, the poet whose denunciation triggered Kivi’s mental crisis, is just a caricature. John Allison