Aho: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 7 (Insect)

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WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 7 (Insect)
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho turns 50 this month and BIS now comes to the fifth instalment of its ongoing ‘Complete Aho’ edition. It couples the Second Symphony, a one-movement 20-minute piece, with the Seventh, which derives from the opera Insect Life (1985-7). In fact, the symphony was both performed and commercially recorded before the opera was ever staged. Whether or not you respond to his music, Aho is a resourceful and imaginative composer. Each of the six movements bears a programmatic title: ‘The Foxtrot and Tango of the Butterflies’, ‘The Dung Beetles’ and so on. The fourth movement, ‘The Grasshoppers’, reveals both flair and virtuosity in its handling of orchestral sonority. Mind you, it strikes me as more symphonic suite than symphony, and its musical language is strongly post-expressionist. It is superbly played here and recorded with greater presence and detail than in the pioneering account, good though that is, from Max Pommer and the Leipzig Radio Orchestra (Ondine). The Second Symphony comes from 1970, when Aho was still studying with Rautavaara, though he made some revisions in 1995. It is a remarkable work, largely fugal in texture and most impressively argued. It has greater concentration and leaves stronger musical resonances than its companion but both works are well worth investigating. Robert Layton