Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1.
When the House Begins to Resound
Jaakko Kuusisto, cond;
Pekka Kuusisto (vn);
Jorma Hynninen (bar); Lahti SO
BIS 1847 (74:38)
This is a fascinating disc. Ilkka Kuusisto (b.1933) studied with Aarre Merikanto, yet he
started his career as a jazz pianist, and jazz, blues, and other popular genres all find their places in the eclectic, refreshing mix that is his music. The First Symphony of 1998, dedicated to Osmo Vänskä and written for the Lahti orchestra, was, in the composer’s words, composed “in a state of summer enchantment.” The sounds of the summer forest are inescapable; in some ways, this is a Finnish answer to Wagner’s
. There is a massive, legato melody just before four minutes in that speaks of the core of Romanticism, beautifully rendered by the Lahti players. The recording, which allows believable presence and placing of the various orchestral soloists, is magnificent, and one can enjoy this nowhere more than in the hushed beauty of the final measures. Another forest provides the setting for the second movement; this time, we hear a march in Sherwood Forest (the material is derived from the composer’s 1985 ballet
). There is an easy fluency to Kuusisto’s expression, the whole underscored by an awareness of the beauty of sound itself. How else could he create the sheer wonderment of the opening of the third movement? The finale juxtaposes the serene with passages of some violence most effectively. The Lahti orchestra plays with the utmost devotion. Note how characterful the strings are in the fugato sections of the finale.
of 2006 for violin and small orchestra was written for the composer’s son, Pekka (who is the soloist on the present recording). The emancipation of the improvisational instinct is key here, for it is not only in the cadenza when the soloist’s fancy may roam. The free sections have chord indications to form a basis for the improvisations. The result is a fascinating mosaic of the notated and the free, which merge impreceptively. The first movement, Andante e rubato, has folk music at its heart, while the central
Slow and Sweet
is a delightful example of slow swing that even finds the soloist whistling nonchalantly at one stage. The Latin American tinge to the finale does not bring with it unfettered joy, however. There are moments of substantial nostalgia here, exquisitely phrased by Pekka Kuusisto.
critic David Johnson was complimentary about the voice of baritone Jorma Hynninen on a disc of Finnish music issued in BIS’s early days (BIS 88, reviewed in
14:4). That disc also featured some Kuusisto, a song cycle that sets actual Finnish recipes to music. The cantata
Kun talo alkaa soida
(When the House Begins to Resound, 1992) has an interesting history: Ilkka Kuusisto was the last chief executive of the old opera house in Helsinki. Walter Grönroos, Kuusisto’s successor, was a Swedish speaker and not confident enough to read out a speech in Finnish, so Kuusisto set it to music for him to sing. The text is quite magpie-like (taking from the Bible, Schopenhauer, and the
). There seems to something Bartókian about the vocal declamation, as well as the harmonies used. There is real power to the music, as well as this performance. A fascinating end to a fascinating disc.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 by Ilkka Kuusisto
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Concertino improvvisando by Ilkka Kuusisto
Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century
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