ERKKI SALMENHAARA: ‘Piano Chamber Music ’ = Sonata for Violin and Piano; Sonata per Cello e Pianoforte; Trois Scenes de Nuit pour violin et piano; Sonata No. 2 per violoncello e pianoforte – Jouni Somero, piano/Raymond Cox, violin/Laura Bucht, cello – Finn Concert Records FCRCD-9727 (Distr. by Albany), 66:34 ***:
I am somewhat amazed at how many composers – and especially of quality – come out of Finland these days. Or perhaps it is that recordings are getting wider distribution which makes getting to know these talented folks easier. It also seems that there is a sort of Finnish “aesthetic” that lends itself to creating music which is very ethereal, uses very exotic orchestrations and a strangely beautiful harmonic palate. Think Rautavaara, Sariaaho and Aho. Sometimes one discovers a composer whose style is much more squarely in a neo-Romantic vocabulary. These pieces are of the latter.
Erkki Salmenhaara (1941-2002) studied with Joonas Kokkonen and a bit with Ligeti but that does seem to be where the connection to those composers ends. A very good example is the Sonata for Violin and Piano from 1982. This is a very straight forward three movement work with a pensive quarter pulse beginning and an oddly “Beethoven-esque” final movement. Violinist Raymond Cox and pianist Jouni Somero play very well in this pleasant, if not stunning, work.
The Sonata per Cello e Pianoforte also begins in an attention getting manner with a staccato pulse in the piano and a very ominous minor key melody in the cello. The central Adagio is very nice and maintains the dark tones of the opening movement. The Sonata close with a modest Allegro that echoes the tone and feel of the opening movement quite well. This compact, rather moody work makes a strong impression and cellist Laura Bucht plays with drama and conviction.
The Trois Scenes de Nuit for violin and piano is also an interesting work with more impressionistic overtones at work. The three movements each evoke a “nocturnal mood” and in different ways. For example, the Oiseaux de nuit (Night Birds) plays like a fantasia on motives established in the piano while the violin plays an extended cadenza. Clair de lune (Moonlight) is a very dark sounding work in which a simple piano chordal pulse supports some increasingly complex violin ruminations. The work concludes with a Chaconne based on a low falling motive in the piano and the sounds maintains a very mysterious mood throughout. In many ways, this was my favorite work in this collection.
Salmenhaara’s Sonata No. 2 for cello and piano is a strangely eclectic work that begins with some B minor arpeggiations that give way to a valse lente. The central Andante is a very beautiful work reminiscent of some of the material in the first cello sonata while the closing Allegro begins with a galloping dotted rhythm that seems reminiscent of Schumann. The work is a little disjointed from movement to movement but the net effect is still pleasant.
Salmenhaara was a very interesting compositional voice. Based only on this collection, it seems that wrote music that appeals to the emotions and does not necessarily fit any particular conventions or practices. I find this music pleasant and easy to listen to. It is really unclear whether these works will find a regular place in the chamber repertoire. In the meantime, I do think they are accessible and most listeners will find something to admire. (Cat lovers will like the cover art…Ed.)
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