Wednesday 7 October 2015

Attractive orchestral works by Finnish composer Toivo Kuula receive fine, idiomatic performances from Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra on a new release from Ondine

The Finnish composer, Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was born in Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. He studied in Helsinki, Bologna, Paris and Germany before becoming a conductor in his home country. Unfortunately he seems to have had a somewhat volatile temperament resulting in his death by shooting during the celebrations to mark the end of Finland’s Civil war.

His compositions range from choral works and songs to chamber and orchestral works including an unfinished symphony.

A new recording from Ondine features orchestral works by Toivo Kuula with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra  under their Chief Conductor Leif Segerstam

ODE 1270-2
Kuula wrote his Festive March, Op.13 whilst in Paris in 1910. Horns and timpani open the work as a distinctive melody is revealed. It has a seriousness of purpose, though shot through with longer flowing passages as well as a lovely central section, full of folksy charm.

The five movement South Ostrobothnian Suite No.1, Op.9 was written between 1906 and 1909, some of which is based on folk music collected by the composer. However, Song of Dusk was written in Italy and Landscape in Paris.

Landscape has a gentle flowing opening with a lovely cor anglais that conjures up a rather Sibelian mood. Indeed there are many fine individual instrumental moments, full of atmosphere before rising in power but falling for the gentle coda. Folk Song is for strings only and brings a lovely little folk tune at times with an intense yearning.

Ostrobothnian Dance is another attractive folk based piece, light and buoyant with attractive local inflections and some fine instrumental details. Devil's Dance sets off with a light forward rhythm but soon becomes a little heavier and darker. Soon brass overlay the orchestral texture leading to a slow, broader passage of more depth and feeling. The music picks up to move, with the opening theme, to the lively coda.

Song of Dusk opens slowly with a thoughtful theme before rising slowly in a beautifully orchestrated melody that really blossoms. The music falls back with another lovely cor anglais melody as the music gently flows ahead. It swirls up in a very fine passage before calming with timpani signalling a slow, quiet coda.

The South OstrobothnianSuite No. 2, Op.20 dates from between 1912 and 1913 and again much of it was written in Paris.

A horn call opens The Bride Arrives before being echoed and leading to a light and buoyant theme, pointed up by harp then pizzicato strings. The simple theme is worked over several times with varying instrumental detail before brass bring a slower stately pace to the music as it leads to a resolute coda with cymbal clashes.  

Rain in the Forest brings a roll on a side drum and a hushed scurrying orchestra. Here Kuula conjures up another of his fine atmospheric pieces with the mystery and sounds of the forest. A cor anglais brings a melancholy theme as the delicate sounds of rain and wet are conjured. The music builds in drama before a bassoon brings about a slow quieter passage, again developing the feel of a dark forest and leading to a lovely mysterious coda.

Minuet is for strings alone with a cello leading in a melody that is eventually developed, though remaining rather repetitive until it finds the coda. A gentle horn introduces Dance of the Orphans, a light footed theme led by an oboe and shared around the orchestra. This is a lovely melancholy little dance.

The final movement, Will-o'-the-wisp finds a cello weaving a motif before the orchestra rises to take the theme tentatively forward. Here Kuula conjures some lovely distinctive sounds in his effectively atmospheric orchestration, all based around a little rising motif. The music rises up dramatically with a deep, heavy orchestration before the quizzical rising motif re-appears quietly and mysteriously. Soon the music moves ahead with a more joyous lively feel with bass drums and brass sounding out as the music drives forward. A bass drum, then a horn call followed by scurrying woodwind and strings lead to a falling away where a solo violin plays the theme interspersed by instrumental flourishes before arriving at a hushed coda.

When Kuula attended a conducting course in Leipzig in 1909 he used his own fugue as a conducting exercise. He later wrote a prelude to go with the fugue thereby creating the Prelude and Fugue, Op.10 (1908-1909) that concludes this disc.

Pizzicato strings underline a woodwind theme in the Prelude, soon shared by the upper strings and brass and soon achieving a fine flow with many of Kuula’s by now familiar traits before leading to a quiet coda.

The Fugue opens with a string theme that soon reveals itself as a fugue, Kuula bringing in added layers from different section of the orchestra, achieving a fine fugue. The music moves through some fine passages as woodwind weave into the fugal lines with, towards the end, brass joining to bring a terrific longer line. For all this the lead up to the fugue is shot through with a thoroughly Finnish sound world. 

It is good to have these attractive works available in such fine, idiomatic recordings especially as Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra receive a first rate recording. There are excellent booklet notes.

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