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CLASSICAL  May 2005

CLASSICAL May 2005

Subject:

Sallinen - Symphony No. 8, Violin Concerto, etc.

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 29 May 2005 10:54:22 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Sallinen: Shadows; Symphony No. 8; Violin Concerto; Palace Rhapsody
Ari Rasilianen, cond; Jaakko Kuusisto, vln;
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
cpo 999 972-2

5/5 stars

Immensely Likable and Important Music

One of the wonders of our modern age has been the outpouring of
extraordinary music from a group of Finnish composers including, as
here, the attractive, accessible, masterfully constructed and lasting
music of the immensely talented Aulis Sallinen (b.  1935).  He has been
responsible for furthering the cause of Finnish opera, with such works
as (giving their English titles) 'The King Goes Forth to France,' 'The
Red Line,' 'The Horseman,' 'Kullervo,' 'The Palace' and, most recently,
'King Lear.' All of these operas have been produced widely.  And most
have inspired non-operatic works by Sallinen, making use of themes,
ideas, gestures contained in the operas.  In this issue, containing
four works, those echoes of operatic works are in evidence.

The first work here, and one of my favorite short modern orchestral
works, is 'Shadows,' an nine-minute masterpiece (with reminiscences of
'The King Goes Forth to France') that contains most of the fingerprints
of Sallinen's mature style -- masterful orchestration (with particularly
inventive use of tuned percussion), Sibelian mosaic style, echoes of pop
dance music, dream-like nostalgic recollections of music of the past,
catchy rhythms, sassy wit and emotional depth.  'Shadows' has been
recorded before by Okku Kamu and the Helsinki Philharmonic on Finlandia.
This performance differs from that one in that it is somewhat smoother
and richer, but each performance has its felicities; I really like the
snappy little wind interjections in the Kamu version, but I prefer the
cumulative emotional effect of the present recording.  This is a work
that every collection should contain, if only to prove to any doubters
that there are masterpieces, both immediately likable and rewarding for
long-term close study, being written in our era.

This is followed by Sallinen's latest symphony, No. 8, subtitled 'Autumn
Fragments,' from 2001.  This is its first recording.  Twenty-five minutes
long and in one movement, it is immediately recognizable as first-rate
Sallinen.  Written during 2001 but finished immediately after the events
of September 11, 2001, the composer says that the ending was altered
by that tragic set of events and indeed, as Martin Anderson says in his
valuable booklet notes, the ending brings 'neither resolution nor peace.'
This is a deeply moving work in which Sallinen quotes the 'Theme of the
Dead' from his opera 'Kullervo.' Commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw,
it also has a theme that uses the musical tones from the words 'ConCErtGEBouw
AmstErDAm.' There is a particularly striking five-part canon, toward the
end, on the Kullervo theme.

The oldest piece here, the Violin Concerto, Op. 18 from 1968 is in
Sallinen's then newly-emerged tonal style -- he had early in his career,
like so many composers of his generation, composed in a rather more
modernist style -- and was written for violinist Oleg Kagan.  But Kagan
was not allowed to exit the Soviet Union for the concerto's premiere and
that responsibility then fell to violinist Okku Kamu who shortly after
exchanged his bow for a conductor's baton and has remained a champion
of Sallinen's work.  To quote Anderson again, in the concerto Sallinen
'found a voice that is unmistakably his: the use of repeated motifs,
juxtaposition of contrasted material, snippets of dance music' and a
characteristic harmonic language.  The Concerto, eighteen minutes long
and in three movements, is played convincingly by rising Finnish violinist
Jaakko Kuusisto.  Again, there are unusual effects, particularly in the
use of bell tones in the tuned percussion.  In the opening of the middle
movement the vibraphonist is instructed to play his pianissimo opening
passage with his fingertips and both the orchestral pianist and harpist
are asked to use a plectrum to pluck their strings.

The final piece, 'The Palace Rhapsody,' was written a year after the
premiere of the opera, 'The Palace,' and uses some of its elements.
It is for wind ensemble and is notable not only for its symphonic use
of the wind band's limited palette, but for both its wit and, in spots,
its menace.  ('The Palace' is a trenchant satire that wittily punctures
the pretensions of those in power but without downplaying their menace.)

One could not ask for better performances -- although one can hope
that there will be additional performances and recordings of all these
wonderful pieces -- by Ari Rasilainen (who, like Kamu, is a fervent
champion of Sallinen's music) and the impressive Staatsphilharmonie
Rheinland-Pfalz, who are giving us a series of really valuable recordings
of neglected modern music on the cpo label.

Heartily recommended and particularly so for those who are not, up to
now, familiar with Sallinen's exceedingly attractive music; this would
be a good place for them to start, and one would hazard a guess that a
new listener, having heard it, would be converted to a Sallinen fan.

TT=67'50

Review at
   http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0008JEKHC/classicalnetA/

Scott Morrison

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