Friday 30 September 2016

A new release from BIS contains some wonderful chamber works by Finnish conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto, a composer who deserves to have a wide audience

Finnish conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto (b. 1974) 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 was concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for over a decade and in 2002 he stepped in for Peter Schreier to conduct Schubert's Symphony No.3. Following that concert he conducted the orchestra for several weeks a season in Lahti and has received professional tuition from Osmo 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.

As a violinist, Kuusisto holds a long list of competition prizes. Appearances as soloist and chamber musician have taken him across Europe and to the Far East.

As a composer 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.

His Leika for symphony orchestra, Op24 and his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op.28 have been recorded by BIS Records with violinist, Elina Vähälä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.

Now from BIS comes a new release entitled Glow featuring chamber works by Kuusisto with Meta4 String Quartet , Jaakko Kuusisto (violin), Paavali Jumppanen (piano) , Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma (viola) , Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello) and Heini Kärkkäinen (piano)

BIS 2192
Play III for string quartet, Op. 21 (2008) was a commission by the Sysmä Summer Sounds Festival in Finland and opens with string chords from Meta4 soon followed by hushed murmurings out of which the second violin weaves a fine theme. The rest of the quartet rises with a violin bringing a lovely passage before the music falls to a hush and Kuusisto brings an exquisite section led by the second violin. There is a sudden pizzicato outburst that leads to a scramble of string textures around which the violin weaves a melody. The music develops through some passionate bars with some expert writing for strings. After a quiet descending passage there is another lovely section out of which gentle pizzicato chords are heard. The music suddenly finds a greater forward drive as a pulsating rhythmic section arrives. The quartet weaves some wonderful moments, with lovely textures falling to a hush out of which the murmurings of the opening rise up to bring about the coda. This is a quite wonderful work, full of fine ideas and expertly written.

Valo for violin and piano, Op. 23 (2009) was commissioned by the Lux Musicae Festival in Siuntio, Finland and uses a whole tone scale as a harmonic motto around which rhythmic textures are laid. It is played here by the composer with pianist Paavali Jumppanen. The piano sounds a chord to which the violin tentatively responds. There are further piano chords before both players bring an increasingly faster theme, developed through a striking passage where they create the feel of falling rain. There is a broader passage before the music falls quieter and slower with lovely piano arpeggios over which the violin brings a melancholy theme. The violin theme is developed through a rhapsodic passage of increasing passion. Kuusisto creates some lovely harmonies and textures between instruments before running into a faster passage where the piano takes the theme over insistent repeated violin phrases.  A fast and furious passage is developed that brings remarkably fine playing from both artists. Repeated, insistent phrases lead to a passage of florid piano scales over which the violin continues the insistent phrases until the violin is left alone on a chord. The piano adds rippling phrases out of which a quite lovely little melody for violin appears. There are repeated phrases and scales from the piano and flourishes from the violin that bring about the coda.

Play II for violin, viola, cello and piano, Op. 16 (2005-06) was another commission, this time for the Ravinia Festival in the United States. Played here by the composer with violist Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma, cellist Jan-Erik Gustafsson and pianist Heini Kärkkäinen, it opens with a piano chord and a little descending piano motif. This soon leads into a fast moving idea for strings around which the piano brings further phrases. The music develops through shimmering passages for the whole quartet before a hushed pizzicato motif arrives to which the piano adds little ideas, slowly developing a rhythm before falling again. Hushed harmonics are heard from the strings over which the piano brings little phrases. The music tries to rise but the quieter ideas continue. Later there are some terrific passages played with fine accuracy by this quartet. The strings develop a more intense line over the piano as the music rises before the theme is shared throughout the strings over a piano layer of quieter chords. Eventually there is a gentle passage where the strings bring a mournful tune over piano phrases in a quite magical moment. As the strings fall to an extreme hush, the piano picks out the theme at the higher end of the keyboard alternating with lower rumbles before the strings re-enter in a tragic passage over slow piano phrases. The music falls through a scramble of descending piano chords before the strings bring a fast moving insistent theme over a repeated piano chord, rising in frantic energy before moving forward with more buoyancy to the coda.

Commissioned by the Jean Sibelius International Violin Competition, Loisto for violin and piano, Op. 12 (2000) is played here by the composer with pianist Heini Kärkkäinen. The violin brings a gentle, rather folksy little melody to which the piano adds chords. The music suddenly awakens with more energy as both players rise up. Soon the violin brings a gentle flowing, slow melody over a plodding piano accompaniment before adding lovely double stopped harmonies, slowly weaving a more intense line over the more flowing piano accompaniment. The music finds a faster pace, hurtling forward in a lighter section before the violin soars over trickling phrases from the piano. There is a pause out of which the violin alone brings a lovely version of the theme to which the piano adds rich chords to conclude.

Commissioned by Paavali Jumppanen, the soloist here, Jurmo for solo piano, Op. 31 (2013) was inspired by a visit to the island of Jurmo off the south western coast of Finland. Quiet presses of the pedal are heard before the piano brings a repeated idea out of which the right hand adds a series of descending phrases. Here Kuusisto develops some lovely ideas out of the simplest of means, rather minimalist perhaps but always finding change over the repeated left hand phrases. The piano develops some fine ideas in the right hand over subtly changing left hand phrases. Later both piano lines forge ahead before falling to a quieter passage where right hand ‘dripped’ phrases are heard over a tolling left hand. This composer creates a wonderful texture before the music slowly grows in strength with florid phrases right across the keyboard before finding the opening repeated phrases to stride confidently forward. The music falls quieter, the pedal taps are heard again and a final deeper pedal sound is heard to conclude.  

This disc contains some wonderful works that deserves to have a wide audience. The performances are top notch. 

They receive an excellent SACD recording from the Järvenpää Hall, Finland and there are excellent notes from the pianist Paavali Jumppanen. 

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