Monday 30 September 2013

Concertos by Jaakko Kuusisto and John Corigliano sit well together on a new release from BIS Records featuring superb playing from violinist Elina Vähälä with Jaakko Kuusisto and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra

A new release from BIS Record  is headed The Red Violin, the subtitle of John Corigliano’s (b.1938) Concerto for Violin and Orchestra that has achieved considerable popularity since its composition in 2003.

However, this attractive new release also includes two works by the violinist, conductor and composer, Jaakko Kuusisto (b.1974) , Leika for symphony orchestra, Op24 and his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op.28 which both precede the Corigliano on this disc. Violinist, Elina Vähälä  joins Jaakko Kuusisto and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for the concerto performances.


Kuusisto studied the violin with Géza Szilvay and Tuomas Haapanen at the Sibelius Academy, and with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss at Indiana University. He has studied composition with Eero Hämeenniemi and David Dzubay.

Kuusisto won the Kuopio Violin Competition in 1989, and during the following years took top prizes in the Sibelius, Indianapolis and Carl Nielsen competitions. In 1997 he reached the finals in the Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels.

Jaakko Kuusisto was appointed concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 1999 and in 2002 he stepped in for Peter Schreier to conduct Schubert's Symphony No.3 when his conducting abilities were recognised. Following that he conducted the orchestra for several weeks a season in Lahti, and received professional tuition from Vänskä. His success has led to guest conducting invitations elsewhere, including performances with the Tapiola and Västeräs Sinfoniettas, the Finnish Radio Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and Savonlinna Festival Opera. In 2005 Jaakko Kuusisto took up the post of Principal Guest Conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra and made his debut with the Trondheim Symphony and Tallinn Chamber Orchestras.

As a composer he has been increasingly active and his works have been performed at several concerts in Scandinavia, as well as in the UK and the United States. His Between Seasons suite has been recorded by the Helsinki Strings for the Finlandia label, and his children's opera ‘The Canine Kalevala' had outstanding success at Savonlinna in both 2004 and 2005.

Leika for symphony orchestra, Op.24 (2010), in one movement and lasting around eleven minutes, opens with an orchestral outburst before settling down, with woodwind swirls, to a quietly reflective section with delicate percussion. As the music slowly rises again there are some lovely sonorities from the orchestra. This is unashamedly tonal and melodic music full of attractive orchestral sounds with a gently flowing melody running through the whole work. There is a section where the harmonics become dissonant as the music becomes faster and more rhythmic but it soon quietens and slows to a waltz like rhythm that steadily builds to a climax, based on the main melodic theme, before quietening with a clarinet and harp to end.

As would be expected Jaakko Kuusisto and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra give a beautifully judged performance.

Kuusisto’s  Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op.28 (2011/12) opens unusually with a cadenza, at first tentative, but soon developing into music of considerable virtuosity, developing the material on which the movement, marked Moderato – attaca, is to be based. Eventually the orchestra suddenly joins in as the violin expresses a long breathed melody that weaves around the orchestra with some lovely dramatic passages for both solo violin and orchestra. The music continues in a rhapsodic outpouring of melody until a quiet section appears with some lovely harmonics from the solo violin. The music quietly builds again with a greater forward momentum and some lovely orchestration until it reaches a climax with some terrific playing from Elina Vähälä. There is a gentle and quiet lead up to a bravura coda.

The music leads straight into the second movement Lento with delicate percussion and woodwind creating a lovely atmosphere as though painting an image of some nature scene. As the violin enters again it weaves the melody around the woodwind theme, a theme that is presented in many orchestral guises. There are lovely little arpeggios on the violin before the orchestra starts to build to a more dramatic section responded to by the soloist, reaching a climax only to level off before building again. The clarinet joins the violin in a passionate section before the real climax is reached. The music quietens to a mysterious section with a little rising and falling motif in the orchestra and a beautifully hushed coda. Wood block taps and fast, rhythmic orchestral phrases are heard at the opening of the Molto allegro before the violin joins in a frantic, fast moving rhythmic theme. There is incisive playing from Vähälä before the second subject arrives, a flowing orchestral melody, to which the violin soon adds its sweetly flowing voice. When a lighter rhythmic section arrives it builds the tempo, leading to a return of the opening fast, rhythmic phrases and a spectacularly brilliant coda.

This is a terrific concerto, effectively written and distinctively orchestrated and is brilliantly played by its dedicatee Elina Vähälä.

The American composer, John Corigliano (b.1938) has now written over one hundred works.  He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Grawemeyer Award, three Grammy Awards, and an Academy Award (“Oscar”) and his works have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world. Corigliano has taken traditional ideas such as the symphony or concerto and redefined them in a uniquely transparent style that combines elements of the post-war European avant garde as well as from the American tradition. Corigliano serves on the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York.

Corigliano has, to date, written three symphonies. His Symphony No. 1 (1991), commissioned by Meet the Composer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was composer-in-residence, has been performed worldwide by over 150 orchestras and twice recorded. This symphony earned him the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. His Symphony No. 2, a rethinking and expansion of the surreal and virtuosic String Quartet (1995), was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and earned him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His Symphony No. 3 Circus Maximus (2004) was commissioned by the University of Texas and has been recorded by Naxos.

Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles (1991) succeeded brilliantly with both critics and audiences with triumphs in Chicago, Houston, and Hannover, Germany.

Additionally Corigliano has written eight concertos, including Conjurer: Concerto for percussion and string orchestra (2008) for Evelyn Glennie, and his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: The Red Violin (2005), written for Joshua Bell.

Corigliano’s Concerto for violin and orchestra ‘The Red Violin’ (2003) arose out of The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra, a work that drew on his music for the film The Red Violin. The composer added three more movements to follow the Chaconne that became the first movement of the concerto. This first movement opens quietly in the orchestra in a slowly rising theme, tentative at first, until the violin enters with a rising motif, with a quiet delicate orchestral accompaniment. Slowly the violin melody finds its way and becomes increasingly passionate as the music drives forward. Suddenly the orchestra develops a faster section to which the violin joins in a kind of galloping rhythm. This leads to music of great thrust and momentum before a virtuosic working out of the material by the violin.  A sudden scurry in the orchestra collapses the music to a quiet and gentle flute theme against a hushed orchestra. The violin joins this hushed melody in a magical moment. Soon there is a more dramatic section with orchestral outbursts but the violin’s melody continues until there is a cadenza for solo violin. Pizzicato chords from the soloist lead to a grand dramatic flourish to end.

The Pianissimo Scherzo opens with strange, rapid little phrases from the solo violin with quicksilver orchestral accompaniment. A piano is heard amongst the orchestral strings in a snapping rhythm before rapid violin phrases appear again. Strange violin timbres and brittle orchestral sounds continue until the movement ends on a little violin flourish. A rich orchestral melody opens the Andante Flautando before the violin enters in this gentle swaying melody. There is a gorgeous violin melody for the solo violinist who adds little double stopped phrases as the music gently progresses and leads into the Accelerando Finale with the solo violin playing some histrionic phrases before the rapidly increasing motif speeds up to a frenetic pace, often competing with the orchestra. Soon a melody appears, romantic and flowing but the music speeds up frantically, reaching a pitch before a solo passage, with many violinistic effects becoming increasingly rhythmic; the basses of the orchestra giving a sound much like that of a locomotive moving off. This leads to an orchestral outpouring with the solo violin rising above in a frenetic coda.

This is an attractive work superbly played by Elina Vähälä whose beautiful tone, as well as remarkable virtuosity, comes through clearly. Again there is excellent playing from Jaakko Kuusisto and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

These three works sit very well together making this an enticing release for those attracted to this music. There is an excellent recording by BIS from the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland and informative notes by both composers.

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