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Aho: Rituals / Storgards, Chamber Orchestra Of Lapland

Release Date: 06/30/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1686   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Anna Kreetta GribajcevicHerman RechbergerMonica Groop
Conductor:  John Storgårds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lapland Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

AHO The Book of Questions. 1 Viola Concerto. Symphony No. 14, “Rituals” 2 John Storgårds, cond; Monica Groop (sop); 1 Anna Kreetta Gribajcevic (va); Herman Rechberger (darabuka, djembe); 2 Lapland CO BIS 1686 (79:22 Text and Translation)

Read more /> Kalevi Aho conceived these three works together in 2006–07 as one big piece, a Concert for Chamber Orchestra. The intention was always that they would also fit onto one CD, so the medium has shaped the dimensions, if not the content of Aho’s ambitious project.

Shostakovich’s DSCH motif seems present in the shadows of each opus, each one dark enough already. The 11 songs (with Groop in top form) set Neruda poems centering on death. Maybe the presence of a 14th Symphony was enough to make the Shostakovich connection. Like his great predecessor, Aho has written a far-from-cheery chamber symphony with prominent percussion, but the Aho 14th is like no other symphony I know. Opening with loud ethnic drumming, it distills a powerful, deeply dark atmosphere into less than a half hour of often very, very quiet structured sounds. The example of the end of the Shostakovich Fourth is also there, of course. Aho’s distinctive and fragmentary melodism helps make this a totally individual and convincing statement, answering the questions of the Neruda poems (“Why death?” basically) with a kind of mystical, resigned fadeout. To that extent, the whole experience is a meditation on the nature of rituals, including that of the orchestral concert itself.

In the middle comes a Viola Concerto in five movements, dovetailed into the end of the song cycle. It sometimes recalls late Britten, and it is no display piece. The drums make and steal thunder in the finale, after more dark, obsessive, and quiet ruminations in earlier movements

The Symphony (at the very least) is an instant classic, perhaps best heard in this context. Outstanding playing, singing, and recording make for a strong recommendation.

FANFARE: Paul Ingram

This is a remarkable project. Kalevi Aho is a prolific and imaginative composer, and the three works here were composed for these forces to comprise a single, evening-long concert. In length they take about as much time as a major Mahler symphony (okay, all of the symphonies are "major", so let's say No. 6 or 7--about 80 minutes). The music is well contrasted: a beautiful song cycle based on poems of Pablo Neruda, a viola concerto, and a symphony featuring solo percussion (hand drums and gongs of various kinds). The Chamber Orchestra of Lapland consists of strings, wind quintet, and percussion, and Aho uses these limited forces with unfailing imagination.

I am going to take for granted the excellence of the performances, which really are marvelous, and instead consider the music itself. The Book of Questions is largely lyrical and contemplative, with some ravishing melodic ideas. As with most viola concertos, we are not spared moments in which the instrument sounds like an angry mosquito, but this is the most dramatic and eruptive of the three pieces, with some very exciting passages. The symphony also has some terrific moments: it makes great use of gongs and tam-tams in its central processional, but the drumming in the outer sections seems a bit too insistent in places, and the quiet ending is curiously unsatisfying.

Still, I can recommend this disc enthusiastically to anyone interested in a fine contemporary composer writing at the peak of his powers. The engineering is typically vivid, and I suspect that repeated listening will be rewarding. As Aho points out, you don't have to listen to all three works at a single sitting. I look forward to savoring them individually.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Viola by Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Anna Kreetta Gribajcevic (Viola)
Conductor:  John Storgårds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lapland Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2006 
Symphony no 14 "Rituals" by Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Herman Rechberger (Darabuka), Herman Rechberger (Djembe)
Conductor:  John Storgårds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lapland Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2007 
The Book of Questions "Kysymysten kirja" by Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Monica Groop (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  John Storgårds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lapland Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2006 

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