SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SEPPO POHJOLA: Symphonies 1 & 2 – Finnish Radio Sym./Sakari Oramo – Alba Records

Two big bracing orchestral works sure to catch your interest!

Published on March 21, 2013

SEPPO POHJOLA: Symphonies 1 & 2 – Finnish Radio Sym./Sakari Oramo – Alba Records multichannel 5.0 SACD ABCD 339 (Distr. by Albany), 60:49 ****:

In another life I think I could live in Finland, if only (well, not only) to find out why so much of today’s most interesting new music comes the land of Sibelius and to be immersed in same!

Seppo Pohjola is a new name for me but what an interesting discovery! He comes from a large musical family and he himself was primarily a French horn player. He studied composition with some of his country’s big names including Paavo Heininen and Erkki Jokinen and this disc provides a very positive and exciting introduction to his output.

These two symphonies are quite interesting unto themselves and more so that they do not fall into any particular style including what many Finns are doing these days with a very ethereal quasi-impressionist manner. Pohjola seems to have a truly original voice.

The Symphony No. 1 may sound a bit derivative with a snippet of the “Dies Irae” as well as some small quotes from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner; even Bach. However, the program notes by Jouni Kaipinen point out the “memorial” quality to the work. Pohjola dedicated the work to his two brothers, both of whom died rather suddenly while the composer was still a student. This is a deep and emotional work, with an opening movement that captures the attention as it leaves its brooding, pensive introduction to go into some rather Shostakovich-like galloping. I thought the third movement with its swirling, eerie wind writing and ominous bassoon musings that give way to a captivating and somewhat martial scherzo was extremely rewarding. I found this whole work quite interesting with great drama throughout.

Pohjola’s second Symphony is quite a bit different than the first but still extremely interesting. The Symphony No.2 has a bit of “concerto for orchestra” quality to it in that there are extended sections of each movement devoted to particular groupings of orchestral color and the structure of the work, as a whole, is a little atypical. In this piece, I was particularly taken with the bold second movement, with its brass punctuations and runs up and down the winds and strings that seemed to echo elements of Bartok and Ravel. The third movement is also quite impressive for its slow, mysterious rumblings and beautiful but somewhat mournful bits of melody that emerge from the low voices. Pohjola does not imbue his symphonies (at least not these two) with classical movement descriptors or meaningful subtitles. Rather, they are simply designated as “I, II, III, IV”.  In a way, this lets the listener derive whatever mood or imagery might come forth.

The recording here by the always wonderful Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Sakari Oramo, is terrific. The SACD format helps to showcase the many delicacies within these scores quite well and Alba’s sound engineers do their usual fine job!

As I said, Seppo Pohjola is a new name for me but I am glad to have discovered this music! There are albums of his chamber music and a couple of chamber operas all on Alba I would really like to listen to as well!

—Daniel Coombs

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