Aho, Mussorgsky

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COMPOSERS: Aho,Mussorgsky
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia concertante); Songs and Dances of Death (orch. Aho)
PERFORMER: Jaakko Kuusisto (violin), Matti Salminen (bass); Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1186
The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho (b1949) wrote this Symphony in his early twenties, and there’s more than a hint of Shostakovich about it. The first movement, a cadenza for the violin soloist accompanied mostly by quiet timpani, inhabits the same world as the desolate ending of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, and the driving rhythms of the second movement have a parallel in many of his scherzos. There’s even a similar sort of modally inflected tonality and bare counterpoint in the third movement, which builds up with the inexorable tread of a funeral march, excellently graded and controlled by Vänskä. The finale for soloist and untuned percussion moves to a much higher level of dissonance – though it never becomes atonal – until a pair of clarinets bleakly round the work off. Kuusisto’s sweet sound sometimes seem at odds with the music, but he’s certainly on top of the technical demands of this ultimately grim piece.

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After this, Mussorgsky’s great song cycle sounds almost too beautiful: Aho’s orchestration tends to smooth the edges, and Salminen’s soft-grained voice emphasises the lyrical, though he rises to the dramatic climax of the Serenade. But should Death be quite so cuddly in the ‘Trepak’? Martin Cotton