AARRE MERIKANTO: Symphony No. 1 in b minor Op. 5; Symphony No. 3 – Turku Philharmonic Orch./ Petri Sakari – Alba multichannel SACD ABCD 336, 70:17 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
Merikanto died only a year after his famous countryman and great influence on all Finnish composers—Jean Sibelius. He wrote his Third Symphony (originally called Fantasia for Orchestra) in 1923. It somehow morphed into the Third Symphony in the early 1950s. He was also responsible for four violin concertos and three piano concertos. Merikanto’s style is strong diatonic. In fact one critic describes his music as “white key music,” which is OK with me if it’s as tuneful, direct and romantic as these two symphonies.
The First Symphony blends Sibelius’ nationalistic romantic writing with more zest and strong melodies than normally heard in Sibelius. The work’s Scherzo is rather skittish and the Andante movement mixed influences of Sibelius with Rimsky-Korsakov. The finale moves along at a heady clip, with strong nationalist and folksy tones a la Sibelius. But Merikanto occasionally shows a sense of humor, of which Sibelius seems devoid.
Merikanto’s Third Symphony is shorter than the First and is dominated by the woodwinds, along with fanfare-like brass figures. Altho Merikanto didn’t like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, the work has an air of Russian Neoclassicism. There are hints of the songs of wood birds here and there, and the short finale again moves again at high speed, with some folk melodies in it. Those who like Howard Hanson’s and Randall Thompson’s symphonies will surely enjoy this symphony. Merikanto has been sort of ignored in the West due to Sibelius, but recent fine recordings such as this one should help remedy this. Alba’s hi-res surround adds to the enjoyment of these works.
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