Kokkonen: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4; ‘…durch einen Spiegel…’

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COMPOSERS: Kokkonen
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4; ‘…durch einen Spiegel…’
PERFORMER: Finnish RSO/Paavo Berglund
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 860-2
Ondine’s cover and booklet notes are up to the minute in registering Joonas Kokkonen’s death at 75, mere weeks before I write this review. None of the works here is a first recording, but together they form an apt tribute to one of the most substantial, if conservative, figures in modern Finnish music. Even if Kokkonen’s masterpiece was his opera The Last Temptations, his orchestral scores have a ponderable presence and atmosphere which promises they will endure.

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The First and Fourth Symphonies have contrasting forms, but each ends with a strong and sombre Adagio. In the mildly serial No. 1 (1958-60), whose other three movements are more anonymous and lightweight, this finale is the only identifiably Nordic one, accepting the inevitable shadow of Sibelius. The three-movement No. 4 (1971) is an altogether more impressive statement: the fluid cloudscapes of its first movement, and the virtuosic central scherzo, have substance and definition equal to the noble, summatory Adagio. ‘…durch einen Spiegel…’ (1977), subtitled a ‘metamorphosis’ for harpsichord and 12 strings, is a spikier, more brittle invention, half-concerto, half-exploratory ensemble piece in the vein of Bartók’s Divertimento or Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante. Jouko Laivuori is an agile soloist; the performances are eloquent and committed. Calum MacDonald