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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kalevi Aho, Theremin Concerto, Horn Concerto, Eyck, Salminen, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Storgards

The Finnish contingent of modern composers is well-represented and epitomized by Kalevi Aho (b. 1949), whose recent disk of concertos (Theremin Concerto, Horn Concerto) (BIS 2036 SACD) provides us with some stirring, memorable contemporary music. It is in the realm of expanded tonality, with an epic post-romantic quality, where the lush and the stark intermingle with a sense of longing perhaps, but also a sense of belonging to a long tradition of musical continuity within the modernist era.

The Acht Jahreszeiten (Eight Seasons): Concerto for Theremin and Chamber Orchestra (2011) has an unforgettable quality. The Sami people of Lapland traditionally divided the year into eight seasons. The concerto follows those divisions--giving us a continuous musical analog of the evolving year, starting with "Harvest" and ending with "Midnight Sun".

In the process the theremin part soars with lyrical beauty and presence, incredibly well played by virtuoso Carolina Eyck. She is a marvel. Not only does she tackle the advanced-harmonic-based part with ease and a beautiful sense of pitch, dynamics and subtle use of vibrato, but also she sings effectively in concordance with the theremin or on her own. It most certainly is a tour de force, one of the finest performances on the theremin I have heard. But it also holds its own as very vibrantly alive music, tone painting of a high order. Finally a concerto for theremin fully worthy as music. If there are others as fine I have not heard them.

The Concerto for Horn and Orchestra (2011) has equal weight. It is in its own way as vivid a work, but more densely extroverted perhaps, on the whole. Aho takes advantage of the natural tendency of the upper partials on the horn to be out-of-tune and includes a deliberate use of that quality to create a very effective solo part that contains quarter-tones.

Annu Salminen appears here in spectacular fashion, with the tonal colors the horn produces out front strongly but gracefully. It is another work worthy of inclusion on the disk.

Kalevi Aho comes through with two inimitable concertos, then, that make an excellent case for his poetic compositional abilities. They are marvelous, well performed, exciting.

Strongly recommended. No matter what our next winters may bring, or even considering all the winters we may experience in our lifetime, Aho gives us music that fits all seasons and transcends the present with a lucid timelessness. The winters of our discontent find solace here.

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