WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4 (Summer)
PERFORMER: Pia Freund (sop), Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo), Laura Nykänen (alto) Tampere PO/Leonid Grin
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 822-2 DDD
A quartet of recent releases forms both a small cross-section of Finnish symphonic music from national Romanticism to the present day, and a showcase for three fine Finnish orchestras. Einar Englund (born 1916) is Finland’s shameless and resolute conservative among symphonists, writing confidently and rigorously deep in the shadow of Shostakovich, yet with granite-hewn rhythmic contours and clear, astringent orchestration very much his own. The Seventh Symphony (1988), written for Tampere’s splendid new concert hall, is the more distinctive.
Erkki Melartin, an exact contemporary of Ravel, conducted the first performances of Mahler anywhere in the Nordic countries, and that composer’s music influenced his own Fourth Symphony (Summer Symphony) with its haunting soprano herder’s song in its Andante. Although Mahlerian in concept, the music is closer in spirit to the nature sound-world of Melartin’s Kalevala-inspired opera, Aino. And the Second Symphony speaks the language of Sibelius without quite its cutting edge. The excellent Tampere Philharmonic under Grin gives strong advocacy to the music.
The influence of French Impressionism is most strongly present in the music of Kalervo Tuukkanen (1909-79), whose Third Symphony, The Sea, carries the composer’s own highly Romantic text. The vowel-rich Finnish language rings from choir, soprano and tenor soloists, and drifts happily into vocalise for the Baltic siren songs of the third and fourth movements. A dappled, Gallic light also tints the orchestration of the dance-like movements of the affable Second Violin Concerto, played with obvious delight by Jaako Kuusisto.
Eero Hämeenniemi (born 1951) studied (audibly) in Poland, Italy and the US. His first two symphonies toy with atonality in dark, ambivalent moods in which consonance and dissonance swirl on a pivot point and, throughout, the sweet whimsy of the individual lyric voice struggles to be heard. Hilary Finch