“Poema – Works for Cello and Strings” = ERKKI SALMENHAARA: Poema; PEHR HENRIK NORDGREN: Hate-Love; JUHO KANGAS: Concerto for Cello and Strings; AULIS SALLINEN: Chamber Music VIII – Juha Kangas – Alba

“Poema – Works for Cello and Strings” = ERKKI SALMENHAARA: Poema; PEHR HENRIK NORDGREN: Hate-Love; JUHO KANGAS: Concerto for Cello and Strings; AULIS SALLINEN: Chamber Music VIII – Marko Ylönen, cello/Ostrobothnian Ch. Orch. /Juha Kangas – Alba multichannel SACD ABCD 372 [Distr. by Albany], 65:09 (5/05/15) ***1/2:

The body of work for solo cello with, or within, a string orchestra is not a huge one but does contain some fine examples, especially within the twentieth century. Here we have a fascinating collection of works for this combination all written by Finnish composers within the last fifty years.

The opening work and title cut, Poema, is also the shortest piece here but is absolutely beautiful. This work by Erkki Salmenhaara is written very traditionally in a solid E-minor and actually uses a snippet from the well-known Chopin “Funeral March” (from his B-flat minor Piano Sonata) as a starting point. This brief but poignant piece is also the oldest work here. It was written in 1975 shortly after the death of Shostakovich, who Salmenhaara greatly admired. No actual dedication or connection to that event was ever acknowledged by Salmenhaara, however.

The mysteriously titled Love-Hate by Pehr Nordgren is really a cello concerto in its structure as well as its feel. The solo cello is given plenty of prominence and some very difficult and virtuosic lines to navigate. This work was written specifically for the present orchestra and its conductor-cellist, Juha Kangas. Although Love-Hate is written in one extended movement, there is a dual movement structure by some shifts in tone and color along the way. Much of Nordgren’s earlier work was quite atonal and avant-garde and while the harmonic and linear language used in this work is certainly not clearly diatonic, there is nothing difficult absorb. Nordgren has said that the title is meant to imply a duality of two concepts that are intertwined and no programmatic approach exists in the score.

Juho Kangas’ own Concerto for Cello and Strings is written in a typical three-movement array and the feel here is actually fairly traditional. Kangas studied with Veli-Matti Puumala, among others, at the Sibelius Academy and has not written that much music so far. I found the style of this work to being fairly close to Shostakovich and Schnittke in spots and a very attractive work. I would look forward to hearing more by this very talented, young composer-conductor.

The big name in this collection is probably that of Aulis Sallinen; known for many decades as an esteemed composer of operas and a large body of orchestral repertoire. Chamber Music VIII is, implicitly, one of a series of chamber orchestra works that explores creative use of a solo instrument and the string orchestra. Such works have included solo flute, accordion, piano and even a wind quintet. The subtitle to this work, “Paavo Haavikko in memorium” explains its somewhat lyrical but melancholic feel. Haaavikko was a poet and revered figure in post-revolution Finland and someone who Sallinen knew and admired personally. This is ultimately a captivating and moving work that I found the most impressive work in this collection.

I have been somewhat fascinated by all music that comes from Finland, post-Sibelius, for some time now and this album feeds my obsession nicely!  These are all well-written works performed beautifully and the recording by Alba is at its usual fine standards. (Incidentally, Ostrobothnia is a region in western Finland near the Baltic Sea and Sweden) I recommend this disc to Suomiphiles or simply to anyone enjoying good, modern cello music!

—Daniel Coombs

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