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Aho: Symphony No 9, Concerto For Cello / Osmo Vänskä

Release Date: 06/27/1995 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 706   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Christian LindbergGary Hoffman
Conductor:  Osmo Vänskä
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"Hard on the heels of the Eighth comes another hybrid – Aho originally called this work Sinfonia concertante No. 2 – with the trombonist flamboyantly adding his distinctive timbre to the orchestral mix and giving voice to the work’s inner tensions.

In her liner-notes Anne Weller points out that the Eighth and Ninth symphonies – paired at the latter’s premiere – are musical opposites, one dark the other light. A quick run-through of the Ninth rather confirms this, with Christian Lindberg’s mellifluous entry in the first movement quite without angst or aggression. Even the animated orchestration suggests an altogether more optimistic mood. In fact just listen to the passage that begins at 2:44, a lightly sprung piece of
Read more baroquerie with some beautifully articulated playing from the soloist.

As I mentioned in my review of the First Symphony Aho seems to see himself as part of a great musical tradition; the Ninth is no exception, combining contemporary sonorities and melodic juxtapositions with formal elements from the past. Aho manages this very well, the various elements blended with great naturalness and skill. Far from seeming an odd progression the first movement, Presto, presents us with an invigorating musical collage, passages of Beethovenian thrust and energy jostling with late 20th century timbres and dissonances. It’s a heady mix but Vänskä, Lindberg and the Lahti band despatch it with great virtuosity.

Even the three mighty drum thwacks at the end of the first movement can’t dispel the music’s more genial mood, especially in the Adagio that follows. Lindberg’s playing here is very impressive indeed, the elegiac trombone rising over a grumbling bass. Another one of Aho’s rather magical slow movements, but it’s not without music of a more uncompromising nature. Yes, taken at face value this may be a sunnier piece but there is still an inner dialectic here – witness the collision of trombone and orchestra. And at 8:19 you may be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a sackbut as the music slides seamlessly into late Renaissance/early Baroque mode.

The most ebullient music belongs to the third movement, whose opening Presto has real sparkle and sprightliness. As always Lindberg’s virtuosic playing is first-rate, in what seems to be a good-natured tussle with the drum-dominated orchestra. No existential angst here, just writing of great skill. For a bit of fun just listen to the tipsy trombone passage that begins at 3:37. This is music written – and played – with plenty of humour. Vänskä brings it all to a triumphant close.

By contrast the Cello Concerto is a much spikier, more unforgiving work. That’s clear from the cello’s opening melody and the orchestra’s dark, sustained dissonances. Glissandos abound in the orchestra, creating a remarkable sense of ‘otherness’, with only the ghostliest of rhythms emerging at 2:50 in the first movement.

The cellist, Canadian-born Gary Hoffman, is convincingly recorded, combining warmth with detail. There is a Godot-like sense of alienation in this oblique ‘dialogue’ between soloist and orchestra, with a slow-burning but increasingly powerful passage that begins at 4:18. That said the music takes on a rollicking gait as well, this flash of humour soon subsumed by the weightiest of perorations.

The first movement ends with an extended, more reflective passage for the soloist before evaporating with a gentle shimmer. There is nothing enigmatic about the powerful, stabbing rhythms that launch the second movement. This is writing of great power and concentration, a foil to the extended – and virtuosic – solo cadenza that follows. In the end, though, it is the orchestra that triumphs with a roof-raising climactic passage that begins at 11:03. Once again I could only marvel at the depth and scale of this recording, it really is astonishing. But there is always a surprise in store and rather than end with a bang the concerto ends with a whimper, fading out just as the first movement faded in.

Not an easy listen, this. One may flinch at the wide dynamic range of Aho’s score but there’s no doubt the composer has absolute control of his material. Vänskä also knows where this music is going and delivers what must surely be a benchmark reading of this wild and wonderful work."

-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 by Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Christian Lindberg (Trombone)
Conductor:  Osmo Vänskä
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993-1994; Finland 
Date of Recording: 01/1995 
Venue:  Church of the Cross, Lahti, Finland 
Length: 31 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Kalevi Aho
Performer:  Gary Hoffman (Cello)
Conductor:  Osmo Vänskä
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983-1984; Finland 
Date of Recording: 09/1993 
Venue:  Church of the Cross, Lahti, Finland 
Length: 29 Minutes 39 Secs. 

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