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Kalevi AHO Symphonies & Violin Concertos

Aho Symphony No 3; Mussorgsky/Aho Songs and Dances of Death
Jaakko Kuusisto (violin) Matti Salminen (bass)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS CD1186 [59'41": recorded 2000/2001]

Aho Symphony No 1; Violin Concerto and Silence
Manfred Grasbeck (violin)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS CD396 [61'45": recorded 1989]

Kalevi Aho (b.1949) is a prolific Finnish composer who deserves to be better known in UK. His 12th symphony will be premiered in August on the slopes of a mountain in Lapland!

Symphony No 3 for violin & orchestra began as a violin concerto in 1971, but took two years (longer than any of his other symphonies) to metamorphose into this interesting hybrid, with 'unappeasable opposition' between the orchestra and the soloist, who is overwhelmed and drowned in the second movement. He remains silent in the melancholy slow movement but recovers for the finale, a virtuoso cadenza for solo violin and percussion, the violinist consoled at the end by two clarinets. This was no preconceived formula, but grew organically of itself. It works well and holds the attention for a span of nearly 40 minutes.

Aho is generously served by BIS. I have been rehearing his Symphony No 1(1969)and Violin Concerto (1982), in which the soloist (Manfred Grasbeck) and orchestra are 'equal, complementary and mutually supporting'. The symphony starts and ends with fugues, the first becoming a 'tragicomical, limping waltz melody'. The later concerto is severe and tonal at its opening, becomes progressively free and dance-like, ending finally with a gentle berceuse. Silence (also 1982) is mainly 'static, motionless, dream-like'. Aho displays a free-ranging imagination, every work of his significantly different and 'itself'.

I have reservations about Aho's orchestration of the Mussorgsky, transposed down for bass, and sometimes enriched with counter melodies and counterpoint and 'tries to avoid neutral instrumentation'. It is played and sung with conviction, and Salminem's is one of the great bass voices.

I should like to hear it in concert with a bass of Salminen's calibre; here the studio balance left me thinking that the sparer original with piano is stronger.

Perhaps my problem is that the recomposition does not go far enough; I prefer, for example, the far more radical approaches of Hans Zender with Winterreise (RCA Red Seal 9026680672), and Uri Caine's recompositions of Mahler and Beethoven.

Equally recommendable and well worth exploring - these two Aho CDs make a fine pair.


© Peter Grahame Woolf