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Kuula: South Ostrobothnian Suites I & II / Segerstam, Turku Philharmonic

Release Date: 09/11/2015 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1270   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Toivo Kuula
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Turku Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This release is the latest in Ondine’s series devoted to Kuula’s varied output. The Helsinki-based label Alba have also issued several discs of music by this composer.

It must have been difficult for Finnish composers of the early 20th-century to escape Sibelius’s very long shadow. One might surmise that Kuula, who became the master’s first pupil in 1909, would have found it harder than most; but seconds into the Festive March and it’s clear that even at this early stage Kuula has a fresh, inspiriting voice. Penned in Paris for the thirteenth anniversary of the Suomen Laulu choir back home, this march is deftly scored and winningly played. It’s a pleasing mix of solemnity and lightness, with none of the missteps one might
Read more expect from a relatively early opus.

Indeed, it would seem that compatriot Leevi Madetoja’s description of Kuula’s oeuvre as ‘self assured’ is only half the story. That’s borne out by the two South Ostrobothnian Suites, whose folkloric energy and rhythms are superbly realised by Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic. The three central sections of the first suite – Folk Song, Ostrobothnian Dance and Devil’s Dance – make use of folk material Kuula collected himself. Landscape and Song of Dusk are essentially tone paintings; the former, graced by Satu Ala’s lovely cor anglais solos, manages to suggest Sibelius without merely imitating him. The latter is a moodier daub, its timp rolls particularly tinglesome.

I find Segerstam a rather quirky conductor at times, but revisiting his thrilling account of Schnittke’s First Symphony reminded me of just how magnetic he can be (review). He’s certainly immersed in Kuula's music, which he shapes and projects with obvious care and affection. The Turku orchestra play well for him, and Ondine’s recording is excellent. The antiphonal horns at the start of the second suite – The Bride Arrives – are very well caught, and the piece ends on a perfectly pitched note of quiet jubilation. It gets better, with masterly woodwind writing – and playing – in Rain in the Forest. Once again Segerstam is both sensitive and proportionate. Gorgeous.

Those attributes are very much to the fore in the beautifully articulated Minuet that follows. I particularly like Kuula’s propensity for starting simply and becoming more complex; it’s so unobtrusively done and the material is never overworked. There’s charm too, notably in the wispy Dance of the Orphans, not to mention a raft of ghostly timbres in The Will-o’-the-Wisp. As always Kuula avoids the usual clichés, no mean feat in an overpopulated field such as this. Even more remarkable the 12-minute piece doesn’t outstay is welcome. No doubt that’s helped by Segerstam’s feel for the score’s dramatic nodes and his unerring ability to maintain tension and build genuine climaxes.

The concluding Prelude and Fugue is unusual in that the orchestral fugue, written in 1908-1909, precedes the prelude, which followed shortly thereafter. Far from being a rather dry, formal exercise the prelude has a restless energy and point that came as quite a surprise. The fugue seems more traditional at first, but then Kuula reverts to his party trick - artful elaboration. Not the most memorable piece here, but very accomplished nonetheless.

What a find; I look forward to exploring Kuula’s output in more detail.

– MusicWeb International (Dan Morgan) Read less

Works on This Recording

Festive March, for orchestra, Op. 13 by Toivo Kuula
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Turku Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1910; Finland 
Venue:  Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland 
Length: 8 Minutes 42 Secs. 
South Ostrobothnian suite for orchestra No. 2, Op. 20 by Toivo Kuula
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Period: Modern 
Written: 1912-1913 
Venue:  Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland 
Length: 24 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Prelude and Fugue, Op. 10 by Toivo Kuula
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Period: Modern 
Written: 1909 
Venue:  Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland 
Length: 9 Minutes 27 Secs. 
South Ostrobothnian Suite No. 1, for orchestra, Op. 9 by Toivo Kuula
Conductor:  Leif Segerstam
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1906-1909 
Venue:  Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland 
Length: 27 Minutes 26 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A True Gem From Finland ! May 1, 2017 By bess holloway (Boulder, CO) See All My Reviews "Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was the first student of Sibelius. Kuula managed to be imfluenced by his teacher without sacrificing his own musical voice. After hearing this disc once, I was ready to label him A Master of Moods. The composer was hot-tempered by nature and died age 35 amidst alcohol-fueled gunfire in a celebration at the end of the Finnish Civil War (May 1918). Know Finland more broadly through Kuula and his Ostrobothnian Suites." Report Abuse
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