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WORKS: Firmamentum; Images d’oiseau; Voyager
PERFORMER: Harri Viitanen (organ)Avanti! CO/Hannu Lintu
Born in 1954, Harri Viitanen is a member of that richly talented generation of Finnish composers which also includes Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. Like them, his composition teachers at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki included Einojuhani Rautavaara, and perhaps something of his teacher’s famous eclecticism rubbed off, for Viitanen lists ornithology, astronomy and ‘data technology’ among the ingredients of his musical language. He is an organist, too, and a substantial portion of his output, including two of the three works on this well-produced disc, has been composed for that instrument.


Producing an organ work called Images d’oiseau inevitably invites comparisons with another, monumental 20th-century composer, and although Viitanen’s use of birdsong is more literal than Messiaen’s – it is possible to recognise nearly all Viitanen’s quotations, while Messiaen’s are generally much harder to identify specifically – there is a similar static feel to his harmony, though overall the music is constructed in a more developmental yet rather anonymous way. In the 45-minute organ concerto Firmamentum and the related tape piece Voyager it is astronomy (specifically the distances from the earth to the stars) that sets the creative juices flowing. The three movements of the concerto get progressively shorter – the climax is a gigantic toccata-like cadenza in the second – and though Viitanen handles the opposing masses of sound, organ versus orchestra, with some skill, the cumulative effect of it all is rather uncertain. Andrew Clements