Friday 21 February 2014

Kalevi Aho’s Fifteenth Symphony together with Minea (Concertante Music for Orchestra) and Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra in first rate performances on a new release from BIS

Surely Kalevi Aho (b. 1949)   must be one of the greatest living symphonists of our time.

I heard the premiere of his 15th Symphony at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, England, in March 2001 and was greatly impressed. Now from BIS Records  comes a recording of the fifteenth symphony together with Aho’s Minea (Concertante Music for Orchestra) and Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra.

This new release features the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä  (Minea), Jaakko Kuusisto (double bass concerto) and Dima Slobodeniouk (Symphony) with the double bass player Eero Munter


BIS 1866

Minea (Concertante Music for Orchestra) (2008) was written for the Minnesota Orchestra to highlight all members of the orchestra in a work that could be used as an opening work at tour concerts and first performed in Minneapolis under their then music director Osmo Vänskä.

Minea opens with ringing brass and woodwind overlaying a hushed side drum before the fuller sonorities emerge with the wind ensemble weaving an eastern sounding melody. As the music progresses the wind motif becomes ever more florid though often quietening in the process. The music eventually begins to quicken and becomes increasingly dramatic with massive drum strokes before leading to a quieter section with ruminating in the basses and quietly thundering drums. The music builds dramatically, but yet again falls back to a quiet section with a distinctive two note motif so typical of Aho. Slow rhythmic drumming is joined by the contrabassoon, as the woodwind bring a fascinating texture of sounds with so many details being woven into the music in this magical section. As the music continues, the orchestra plays a flowing melody around the insistent rhythm, slowly and steadily building in power until it reaches a peak with stabbing orchestral phrases. When the music quietens, there are frantic, scurrying strings decorated by woodwind that eventually lead the strings on to an even faster section with the percussion re-entering as the music recklessly dashes headlong to a tremendous coda for full orchestra.

This is a terrific work that should find a place in concert programs. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä give a first rate performance.

Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (2005) was premiered by the soloist on this disc, Eero Munter, with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 2005. It is in five movements played without a break.

The Moderato, Passionato opens with woodwind and strings in a scurrying motif that leads upwards. The solo double bass enters providing a bass line under the orchestra that enters and leaves. As the double bass continues to ruminate, the various sections of the orchestra intersperse, adding their voice. Soon the double bass moves to its highest register as the orchestra continues to sporadically have its say, but eventually returns to its darker, lower notes. However, it is the orchestra that leads into Cadenza I (Pizzicato) where the double bass plays only pizzicato with Eero Munter extracting some intoxicatingly atmospheric sounds from his instrument, showing himself to be a virtuoso, in this tremendously challenging but superbly written movement that has so many subtleties of colour and texture.

Presto – Tranquillo – Presto brings motoric strings together with flurries of woodwind in light and transparent music. When the double bass appears it hardly notices, blending in with the orchestra into the highest registers, superbly done by Munter. The opening motif, motoric strings and woodwind flourishes, re-appear more violently before a slower section where the double bass growls against a dark orchestral accompaniment in a melancholy slow melody. Eventually the motoric strings arrive again with woodwind, brass and percussion in a dramatic section where, eventually, the music seems to collapse in on itself before going straight into Misterisoso (Cadenza II) with delicate percussion and short orchestral chords as the double bass provides strange harmonies and plucked lower notes.

Slowly a simple little tune for double bass is intoned but never develops, merely continuing with delicate harmonic slides before fading away into Andante – Allegro ritmico where a lovely woodwind melody is soon joined by the double bass. The theme develops, becoming more complex, as the various parts of the orchestra add little variations. Slowly the music rises to a climax for orchestra before dropping away to allow the soloist to be heard beneath the woodwind. In the stillness, the soloist knocks rhythmically on his instrument, accompanied by percussion, as the sound of the bullroarer arrives and the music fades to a hushed coda.

Aho’s writing is inspired and technically brilliant, as is Munter’s playing. It is Aho’s ear for colour and texture, beautifully brought out by Jaakko Kuusist and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra that gives us such a fine concerto.

Symphony No.15 (2009-10) was a joint commission from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, receiving its first performance in Manchester, England when Juanjo Mena conducted the BBC Philharmonic. Here Russian conductor, Dima Slobodeniouk conducts the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

Nebbia opens with shifting string harmonies interspersed by the tinkling of bells and high pitched percussion. Soon the celeste adds its bright sounds before woodwind enter, conjuring up an icy landscape through the mists that give the movement its title. A brass motif appears as the mists try to clear, then a rapid clarinet motif is soon joined by other woodwind. The strings still swirl as though penetrated by light before brass enter over the strings providing a firmer sound that is interspersed by the rapid woodwind motif. There is a terrific moment as drums and percussion enter to point up the sound as it hurtles forward. The music eventually quietens as an oboe enters together with gentle harp flourishes in a glorious passage, intensely atmospheric that leads to Musica bizzarra with a repeated ascending theme for woodwind and celeste. Woodwind and brass enter then various hand drums (bongos, congas, darbuka and djembe) as the rhythmic nature of the music increases, slowly gaining in tempo and dynamics. Occasionally the music calms a little but the momentum is always maintained, building to quite muscular, intense climaxes until eventually the music calms, the hecklephone adds its distinctive sound joins and the movement ends peacefully.

Celeste and glockenspiel open Interludio in a delicate, mysterious mood underlaid by lower strings. The movement adds the sounds and textures of the bell tree, marimba and crotales as the music continues with sudden loud orchestral outbursts. A brass motif briefly enters, then the string sonorities from the first movement before rapid strings and brass interrupt the calm. Low strings, percussion and celeste lead into Musica strana where a swaying motif for woodwind, a lightly, subtly dancing theme, is soon joined by the strings. Brass and woodwind arrive over rhythmic percussion before the strings, then brass lead the orchestra on in increasingly dynamic music. A saxophone is heard as the music calms a little in a pulsating string theme. The music rises again and one can hear the sound of an Arabian tambourine before the music develops through quieter little passages first for woodwind, then flute. The music soon rises, building again in drama, in a boisterous central climax.

Many more orchestral details are developed in this constantly changing movement, brilliantly orchestrated, before it builds again and the music starts to rush headlong to its wild, breathless coda, just punctuated by woodwind motifs before the final outburst.

This is another fine symphony from this master composer, full of invention, wonderful colours and textures and, of course, rhythmic power.

Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra are on top form and the recording is up to BIS’ usual high standards. There are excellent booklet notes by the composer.

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