“Eliangelis” = Contemporary Finnish Music for Clarinet [TrackList follows] – Mikko Raasakka, clarinet & bass clarinet/ Gregory Barrett, clar. – Alba

by | Apr 21, 2015 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Eliangelis” = Contemporary Finnish Music for Clarinet [TrackList follows] – Mikko Raasakka, clarinet & bass clarinet/Gregory Barrett, clar. – Alba multichannel SACD ABCD368 [Distr. by Albany] (3/03/15) 75:09 ***1/2:

I have personally been involved in finding and performing new clarinet music for quite some time now. I find that the clarinet is an instrument capable of a wide range of expressive possibilities, a variable tone palate and physically capable of some very advanced atypical “extended techniques.” So, not surprisingly, there is a wealth of “modern” music out there for unaccompanied clarinet, clarinet duos and works that feature the bass clarinet.

I have also been almost obsessed with the wealth of new music and fascinating composers that seem to have come out of Finland over the past forty years, especially. So, this collection intrigues and interests me a great deal. Something well worth acknowledging is how very difficult most music of this type is to perform. The featured soloist, Mikko Raasakka, and his partner on the duet works, Gregory Barrett, are incredible players with good tone and amazing technique; especially those “extended techniques” such as multiphonics, singing and playing simultaneously, rapid staccato, et cetera.

What is also quite interesting is where these two great players come from. Mikki Raasakka is indeed Finnish and has premiered a vast array of pieces for clarinet, midi-controlled clarinet and the Finnish liru. He has also been a guest clinician and teacher at a number of colleges in Europe and America including Northern Illinois University, where he met the American virtuoso, Greg Barrett who, in turn, is an expert in clarinet music from Finland!

The music here is uniformly unusual but captivating. While I enjoyed each of the works here, some left a stronger impression than others. One thing I noticed right away is the interesting choice to take the long, multi-faceted Illusio by the late esteemed Tauno Marttinen and break it up into six “fragments” in between other works in the collection. I could not find an explanation for this choice but, as it sounds like a separate new work in each ‘fragment’, it seems to work just fine and it is a compelling work.

Other works here that I admired a great deal include the atmospheric saari, rannaton (“an island, shoreless”) for bass clarinet and tape by Hannu Pohjannoro. The tape portion is a fascinating mix, almost like the old musique concrète, comprised of sound sources such as glass, sand, wood, metal and foil. It serves as a “soundtrack” against some amazing bass clarinet lines.

I was also taken with the multiple movements of Amygdala by Perttu Haapanen. The title is a reference to the hippocampus section of the brain that controls speech and voluntary breath control. The soloist has to do a wildly impressive amount of things throughout this work and the result is a truly virtuosic exercise. I also greatly enjoyed the multi-movement for two clarinets, Glass Orifice by Olli Virtaperko, written with grant funding from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Each player has to negotiate some very difficult multiphonics and microtonal playing. Raasakka and Barrett are well up to the demands of this challenging work.

I cannot honestly say I disliked any of the pieces in this set. I mentioned the ones that stood out the most in my mind. I think this will appeal, of course, to clarinetists who are always on the lookout for new, bracing repertoire. Fans of modern music or “Suomi-philes” will also enjoy this fascinating collection, as I did.

1. Eliangelis for solo clarinet – Antti Auvinen
2. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen
3. Saari, rannaton for bass clarinet and tape – Hannu Pohjannaro
4. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen
5. Necklace for solo bass clarinet – Adina Dumitrescu
6. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen
7-13. Amygdala – Perttu Haapanen
14. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen
15. Broken Lullaby for clarinet and bass clarinet – Riika Talvitie
16. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen
17-21. Glass Orifice for two clarinets– Olli Virtaperko
22. Illusio (fragment) – Tauno Marttinen

—Daniel Coombs

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