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Rantala: Piano Concerto, Final Fantasy / Kuusisto, Et Al

Release Date: 05/23/2006 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1071   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Iiro Rantala
Performer:  Iiro RantalaJaakko Kuusisto
Conductor:  Jaakko Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tapiola Sinfonietta
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Rantala is a jazz pianist and a founding member of Trio Töykeät, which Ondine’s booklet note describes as “Finland’s internationally most famous jazz band.” The Piano Concerto was suggested by the Tapiola Sinfonietta, and we also read that the unperturbed Rantala, a stranger to the genre, “had no idea of what he was getting himself into.” The booklet wryly describes Rantala’s philosophy about the concerto form in general, “[it] must be very long,” and that despite being the “primary caregiver for two boys, one dog, and one cat,” work proceeded whenever possible “in places as diverse as jazz clubs, green rooms, bars, planes, trains, lifts, on the back of a llama, and briefly, in a tuk-tuk.” (According to Wikipedia, a “tuk-tuk” is a Read more cross between a taxi and a rickshaw, often seen on the streets of Bangkok.) By now, you must have gathered that Rantala has a good sense of humor.

Naturally, that humor comes out in his music. Rantala has taken his task seriously, but it is clear that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. The Concerto is a fun-filled yet sincere 38-minute journey in three movements inspired by jazz, George Gershwin, and perhaps also by some of the more flippant French composers of the past century, notably Jean Françaix and Francis Poulenc. It is securely tonal, and completely written out, except for improvisatory passages for the pianist. The outer movements hover around the 15-minute mark. Because they are not tightly structured—at least not to my ears—they risk going on for a little longer than the material merits. (In the last movement, Rantala offers up several false endings to tease the listener. The actual ending—an unexpected burst of musical flatulence—is hard to resist.) The construction is more sectional than organically developed, but who cares? Rantala’s Piano Concerto is both impudent and endearing, and I would rather hear it than anything by Michael Daugherty almost any day. Having tut-tutted over the fact that Danny Elfman did not orchestrate his own Serenada Schizophrana (see elsewhere), I think it’s only fair for me to state that Rantala was substantially assisted in this task by Kuusista, who also is Rantala’s brother-in-law.

Astorale, for Rantala alone, is a jazzy, breezy little piano piece without a care in the world. Its title might suggest an homage to Astor Piazzolla, but it is in Tangonator (for violin and piano) that Piazzolla’s influence is more strongly felt. In fact, Tangonator might just be the best bit of tango nuevo written by a composer other than Piazzolla! The disc closes with a breathless Final Fantasy, a return to the mockery of the Concerto, but actually derived from music in the repertoire of Trio Töykeät. A bit of Piazzolla’s influence can be heard here as well.

Hearing this disc has made me want to hear more from Rantala and Trio Töykeät, although the latter ensemble’s discs are not readily available in this country. Rantala is an excellent pianist—superbly agile, and sensitive in his touch—and his brother-in-law, in addition to being a fine conductor, does an uncanny imitation of Fernando Suárez Paz, the last violinist to play in Piazzolla’s quintet. What is it about Finland and its ability to produce excellent musicians as readily as America produces corrupt politicians?

The engineering is vivid, as one expects from Ondine. This will be on my Want List at the end of the year—if not in the top five, then at least among the runners-up. Holy moley, this was fun!

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano by Iiro Rantala
Performer:  Iiro Rantala (Piano)
Conductor:  Jaakko Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tapiola Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Astorale by Iiro Rantala
Performer:  Iiro Rantala (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Tangonator by Iiro Rantala
Performer:  Iiro Rantala (Piano), Jaakko Kuusisto (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Final Fantasy by Iiro Rantala
Performer:  Iiro Rantala (Piano)
Conductor:  Jaakko Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tapiola Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 

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