Kokkonen – Symphonies Nos.1 & 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Kokkonen
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2; Opus sonorum
PERFORMER: Finnish Radio SO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1129-2

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 Joonas Kokkonen is best known for his opera The Last Temptations (1975). In Finland it enjoys a status close to that of Peter Grimes in Britain. And as with Peter Grimes the four striking orchestral interludes have become a successful concert item. Is the same is ever likely to happen to the four symphonies?
 
As these authoritative, enthusiastic performances make quiet clear, the integrity and focused intensity of feeling are as evident as in the opera – intermittently. But in the first two symphonies, at least, Kokkonen’s imagination does seem more than a little convention bound. Opus sonorum suggests an effort to break free, but the success is only partial. 
 
The Last Temptations never makes a point of being novel, but its form, expression and artistic message work in near-perfect harmony. Here there’s a distinct sensation of clipped wings – as in those worthy, often admirable but in the end flightless British products of the 1950s that used to be labelled ‘Cheltenham Symphonies’.
 
It’s a shame to have to be negative about music on which Sakari Oramo and his orchestra have obviously expended so much patient, even loving effort – and which has been so well recorded. I’m glad I heard this, but I don’t think I’ll be going back. Stephen Johnson