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Hakola, Hosokawa: Guitar Concertos / Korhonen, Rouvali

Hakola / Korhonen / Oulu Symphony Orch / Rouvali
Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1219  
Composer:  Kimmo HakolaToshio Hosokawa
Performer:  Timo Korhonen
Conductor:  Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAKOLA Guitar Concerto 1. HOSOKAWA Voyage IX, “Awakening”. 1 Blossoming II Timo Korhonen (gtr); 1 Santu-Matias Rouvali (cond); Oulu SO ONDINE 1219-2 (65:24)

Here are two fascinating works for guitar and orchestra. Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) displays the same sensitivity to texture as his elder Read more compatriot Takemitsu. His Voyage IX “Awakening” (2007) is a piece of neo-Impressionist tone-painting, which places a ruminative guitar over a wash of strings, shaded with subtle percussion. The shifting string textures move chromatically, often in slow glissandos. According to the composer’s notes, they represent the deceptively still waters of a pond while the guitar is the water lily, floating on top but anchored deep below; a very Japanese aesthetic. Hosokawa’s shorter piece for chamber orchestra, Blossoming II (2011), is also a depiction of water lilies. It too is atmospheric but perhaps a little nebulous compared to the other piece—the presence of the solo guitar in Awakening bringing the musical imagery into sharper focus. Blossoming II achieves an impressive climax, nonetheless, before a coda in which the music fades away to a wisp of sound. Both works are built around the tritone interval, ensuring that Hosokawa’s harmony remains tonally ambivalent.

Seven years ago, in Fanfare 29:6, I reviewed a recording of a Clarinet Concerto by Finnish composer Kimmo Hakola (b. 1958) and in many ways his 2008 Guitar Concerto is a companion piece. Both are vast canvases, lasting 38 and 37 minutes, respectively, and both are colored by a specific ethnomusical influence. In the clarinet concerto this is Russian/Jewish klezmer music; in the guitar concerto it is the musical tradition of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and Northern Africa. A blaze of colorful orchestration and virtuosic guitar passages form the first movement: typical flamenco attack refracted through the harmonic spectrum of Modernism. The idiom is very like that of Leonardo Balada, a Spanish-American composer who takes a similarly freewheeling approach to traditional musics. The second movement, in my estimation, is the most extraordinary slow movement of any guitar concerto since Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez . It takes the form of an extended meditation on the Sephardic melody Adio Querida . Lasting over 13 minutes, the movement begins tentatively, exploring aspects of the song before we hear the melody complete (about halfway through), which is then developed. Hakola’s variations reach quite a pitch before the quiet coda arrives. He mines the melancholy song’s emotional terrain with such skill and empathy that this movement could stand as a significant composition on its own.

“Ghetto” is the title of the third and final movement. Even longer than its predecessor, this finale is a mosaic of disjointed fragments of flamenco riffs and tunes. It all seems totally random, but repeated listening reveals that the early fragments are repeated at the end of the piece, which simply comes to a halt without warning. Sound effects make a major contribution: The movement begins with frenzied clapping that gradually takes on a recognizable flamenco rhythm, and the early sections are punctuated by the sound of hubbub, chatter, and cries of encouragement (presumably for the solo guitarist). The composer states: “It is a dream image of a fictitious ghetto somewhere in Andalusia. I wanted to create a cinematic mood where the fragmentation of the music arrests time and draws attention to the sounds in the environment.”

Hakola used the same idea previously in his clarinet concerto to depict a Jewish wedding with klezmer band. Back in 2006 this was my reaction: “I am in two minds about one aspect of the recording. The Khasene movement is preceded and interrupted...by the literal sounds of wedding-guest hubbub: shouting, talking, cheering, and such. Was this necessary, when Hakola is so demonstrably capable of making his illustrative points musically?” I feel the same way about the use of ad libitum noise in his new guitar concerto. Once you know it is coming it is less of a jolt, but how essential is it? The flamenco clapping has its precedents (such as the opening of Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, which was a ballet, not a concerto designed for the concert hall), but at the risk of appearing reactionary I think “Ghetto” would make a stronger conclusion to this work if it were half as long, structurally tighter, and dispensed with all the environmental rabble. As it is, the concerto remains an impressive, imaginative work, notably because of its slow movement.

Korhonen maintains a strong presence, displaying technical assurance and stylistic appropriateness. Some readers may have admired his work on a previous Ondine disc of concertante pieces for guitar and orchestra by Leo Brouwer. The Oulu musicians under their youthful conductor convey perfectly the southern sultriness of Hakola’s vision—quite an achievement, considering this is the northernmost orchestra in the Northern Hemisphere. Sound quality is first-rate, although unlike recent Ondine discs this is only available in two-channel stereo. In spite of my reactionary episode, the disc is confidently recommended.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Guitar by Kimmo Hakola
Performer:  Timo Korhonen (Guitar)
Conductor:  Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Voyage IX "Awakening" by Toshio Hosokawa
Performer:  Timo Korhonen (Guitar)
Conductor:  Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Blossoming II by Toshio Hosokawa
Performer:  Timo Korhonen (Guitar)
Conductor:  Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Period: Contemporary 

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