“Paul Taylor OrCHestra, Alphorn and Nordic Winds” – Eliana Burki, alphorn/Karolina Kantelinen, voice/Paul Wegman Taylor, cond. (TrackList follows) – Solo Musica SM221 (2 CDs) [Distr. by Naxos], 92:52 (8/15/2015) **1/2:
First off, my issues with this collection have nothing to do with the performances. In fact, the members of the Paul Taylor OrCHestra seem highly skilled and have a nice, warm ensemble sound. (Incidentally, I searched their website for some indication as to why Taylor likes ‘orchestra’ spelled with a capital “CH” in the middle – to no avail. I’m sure there is some significance, if we only knew.)
Taylor himself has an admirable and noteworthy background. A very fine French horn player by trade, Taylor held some very important positions in that regard before entering conducting under the tutelage of David Gilbert and others. His ensemble, as well as himself as a guest conductor, has done some very impressive things all throughout Europe. So, Paul is clearly a very talented guy and has become well known and popular in northern Europe; having a guest conducting engagement every summer in Jakobstad, Finland.
This particular album is a collection of what are, mostly, “light” classics from Finland, Norway, et cetera, covering several different styles and generations. It seems the ‘featured form’ in this collection is music for Alphorn and ensemble; the soloist being Eliana Burki. Ms. Burki is one of the few and apparently one of the best Alphorn soloists in the world.
For example, the Concerto for Alphorn and Strings by Carl Rütti is a pleasant if not terribly interesting piece that does sound quite rustic; save for the last four bars that sound too ‘Copland-esque’. The Alphorn has some very natural overtones that – among other things – make perfect fourths as well as augmented fourths pretty out of tune; to the unaccustomed ear. The highest register seems really hard to control too, although Eliana Burki does have a mostly lovely and clear sound on this very old and very folk-sounding instrument.
Her own World Journey Suite for strings (arranged by and orchestrated by Daniel Schnyder) is a pastiche of sounds and melodies that represent countries and cultures she has visited. This is a clever, at best, mélange.
A couple of the selections for vocalist and ensemble are – again – interesting but simply not attention-holding. The Karelian Echoes by Karolina Kantelinen and Andreas Peer Kähler does have a very realistic and indigenous feel to it and the melody in the Wedding Song is nice enough.
I felt the strongest work, for me, in this whole collection is the Nordic Winds by Sanna Kurki-Suonio, arranged by Taylor. These are three folk tunes played in a very catchy, almost rock fashion and are pretty entertaining. They make for a good prelude work to the Finnish “hoedown” (so described in the booklet notes) by Timo Alakotila. While Taylor’s arrangement of this crossover work is kind of fun, I think I would enjoy the original – apparently for harmonium, accordion, two fiddles and bass – more.
I also did not understand the splitting up of the four movements to Alakotila’s Concerto Grosso in this collection. We open the program with the first movement, an overture, then get the remaining three after three other works. I’m a purist when it comes to stuff like that; drives me crazy.
Virtually all of the works here have a folksy and almost “pop” sound to them that I found a little tiring after a while. I don’t have much else to say about this collection except that the playing is certainly good but the repertoire is not a lot more sophisticated than advanced high school rep and – in a couple of cases – not as interesting.
1. Timo Alakotila, Concerto Grosso, Overture
2-4. Carl Rütti, Concerto for Alphorn and Strings
5. Improvisation I
6-7. Karolina Kantelinen/Andres Peer Kähker, Karelian Echoes
8. Concerto Grosso, Polska
9. Concerto Grosso, Viaggio
10. Concerto Grosso, Fughetto
11-14. Eliana Burki/Daniel Schnyder Weltreise Suite
15-17. Sanna Kurkl-Sunio/Paul Taylor, Nordic Winds
18. Improvisation II
19. Timo Alakotila, Smash
20. Traditional, Suisse, Guggisberg Lied