KALVEVI AHO: Concerto for Theremin and Chamber Orch., “Eight Seasons”; Concerto for Horn and Chamber Orch. – Carolina Eyck, theremin/Annu Salminen, horn/Lapland Ch. Orch./ John Storgards – BIS-2036 multichannel SACD, 58:28 (+ video clip) [9/9/14] (Distr. by Naxos) *****:
Not many albums of theremin music out there, and this one is even in surround!
The theremin was one of the very first electronic musical instruments, patented by Léon Theremin in Russia in 1928. It came out of Soviet-financed research on proximity sensors. The sounds it produces can be close to a female human voice, and it is played without physical contact with the instrument at all. Two metal antennas sense the relative position of the player’s hands, with one controlling the frequency and the other controlling the volume level. The electric signals are amplified and sent to a speaker. The theremin was used in such movie soundtracks as Spellbound, Lost Weekend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and is becoming increasingly popular with some alternative rock groups today. It had fallen out of popularity after WWII because it is so very difficult to play, and more modern electronic instruments with keyboards were easier to use.
So concertos for theremin and orchestra do not exactly abound, and this is not only the most recent one, but the first in multichannel form. Its Finnish composer has written 15 symphonies, five operas and 20 concertos. He project has been to write a concerto for each of the main instruments in the symphony orchestra. The Horn Concerto of 2011 fits this, but for the Theremin Concerto of the same year Aho went a bit further afield. German theremin soloist Carolina Eyck had written to Aho asking if he would write a concerto for her unusual solo instrument, and so he did. She also mentioned that she was working on singing along with the instrument, so he wrote a part in it for her voice too. There is a good short video about this included on the SACD, but viewable only on one’s computer—not on the TV screen.
The concerto has eight movements and therefore bears the title Eight Seasons. They are played without pauses. The number eight comes from the Sami people of ancient Lapland, who divided the year into eight sections. He feels that the theremin as the solo instrument can be a magical experience for listeners. The eight movements are: Harvest, Autumn Colors, Black Snow, Christmas Darkness, Winter Frost, Crusted Snow, Melting of the Ice, and Midnight Sun. A most fascinating work.
The slightly shorter Horn Concerto is also in a single movement. The five sections of the work are all of a different character, and the faster sections are a workout for the orchestra. The French horn soloist physically moves thru the orchestra during the concerto, starting on the left and by its final notes is off the stage on the right. This moving spatial quality should be heard especially well in the mutichannel option of this SACD. The horn is also given some quarter-tone notes in the highest register.
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