WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Requiem; Sinfonia da camera; Opus sonorum
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (sop), Walton Grönroos (bar), Ilkka Sivonen (piano); Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir, Lahti SO/Ulf Söderblom, Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CD-849/850 BIS CD-849/850 157:00 mins (2 discs) £££ Reissue
Joonas Kokkonen’s posthumous reputation as one of the most significant Finnish composers of the 20th century is virtually ensured through The Last Temptations – a work which, together with Sallinen’s The Horseman and The Red Line, helped to establish Finland as one of the epicentres of postwar operatic composition. His four symphonies, largely composed in the decade preceding this work, also confirm Kokkonen as an assured craftsman, if not quite as urgent and original a communicator as such figures as Sallinen and Rautavaara. It’s possible that this impression is magnified through hearing these works as a cycle, for, although stylistically Kokkonen’s language evolves naturally from the serialism of the First to the free tonality of the Fourth, there’s a remarkable consistency of approach in matters of sonority and structure that exposes some limitations in musical horizons, especially over the time span of two generously filled discs.
Still, BIS’s set, culled from highly acclaimed performances recorded in the early Nineties, stands as a worthy tribute to his achievement. At the same time, those wishing to investigate the most distinctive of Kokkonen’s orchestral works would certainly be better served through Ondine’s disc of the First and Fourth Symphonies (reviewed in January). Erik Levi