PAAVO KORPIJAAKKO: Nebula: Concerto for guitar and strings; Uniavaruusalus (The Spaceship of Dreams): Song cycle on poems of Rakel Liehu; Kimberley: Sonata for guitar – Petri Kumela, guitar / Tiina Penttinen, mezzo-sop./ Ostrobothnian Ch. Orch. /Juha Kangas – Alba multichannel SACD ABCD 345 [Distr. by Albany], 62:49 [5/14/13] ****:
Surfing the Internet, looking for information about composer Paavo Korpijaakko (b. 1977), I came across a post by one wag who asked if every living Finn is a composer. Not quite, I’m sure, but that big country of just five and half million souls is indeed very musical and seems to produce more than its fair share of musicians. The notes to this Alba disc don’t provide a lot of background on Korpijaakko except to mention that his chief instrument is the accordion (unusual for here but not for there) and that he has worked closely with guitarist Petri Kumela, so closely, in fact, that he seems to have developed an intimate understanding of his instrument, which I think is a very fair assessment. Korpijaakko taps many of the capabilities of the guitar, both traditional and not so, and certainly manages to put the performer through his paces. There seems never to be a dull moment for the guitarist in any of these pieces, and I’m happy to report that mostly holds true for the listener as well.
I say “mostly,” so before you wonder, let me state upfront that the work on the program I can pretty much do without is Uniavaruusalus. The English translation, “Spaceship of Dreams,” might lead you to expect the dreamy and the space-musical, but that’s not what I get out of the piece. The title comes from a line in the fourth poem of the cycle, Ja sinä joka piirrät (“And You There Drawing”), which warns the person (or persons) addressed in the poem:you spurting sprout of execution stake beware! beware not in your heads the ichthys, the cruel-regally beautiful in your heads the spaceship of dreams. . . .
This should give you an idea of the poetry behind the work. It’s highly expressive, even dramatic in spots, but also pretty darned abstract, the kind of poetry that leads to a generalized sort of musical Expressionism recalling the vocal music of Arnold Schoenberg and his buds. For good measure, there’s even some Schoenbergian Sprechstimme here and there. I find this cycle rather dry and academic-sounding, the mezzo-soprano part too tirelessly stentorian and declamatory, which doesn’t mesh well with the often pearly writing for the guitar.
My favorite work is Nebula, in which the very fine Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra supplies most of the nebulous, interstellar mystery hinted at in the title. Spooky deep-space evocations emanate from the strings, while a single percussionist supplies a steady stream of terse interjections from a wide variety of instruments: drums, cymbals, wood block, tambourine, vibraphone, tam-tam, xylophone. The guitarist nimbly threads this accompaniment like an astronaut doing a space walk. Very appealing.
The guitar sonata somewhat mysteriously titled Kimberley is a slightly more demanding listen. It has the contours of a Classical sonata, being in four movements, fast-slow-fast-fast, the third corresponding, I suppose, to the Classical scherzo, the last movement a barnstorming Presto. But the musical material and its working out don’t have the inherent interest that lies in the space-musical Nebula. Still, the writing for the instrument is always skillful and idiomatic, and the music, or musical sounds, are sometimes intriguing, especially in the slow movement, which may be Korpijaakko’s own brand of Bartókian night music, with its snap pizzicatos, pinging harmonics, and moments of mandolin-like strumming. Kimberley is a work that yields up its special appeals with repeated listening; the hated cliché “It grows on you” pretty accurately reflects my experience with the piece.
At any rate, Petri Kumela plays with breathtaking virtuosity and intensity throughout. He plays as if he has a proprietary interest in this music, and of course he does. Beautifully deep plush surround sound from Alba makes this even more a program and composer worth exploring for the adventurously inclined.