Here’s one of those perfect audiophile recordings in which the musical and audio perfection are inseparable and, as a bonus, there are repertoire discoveries galore to be made – even for the fiercest of string orchestra collectors. Only Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances and Grieg’s Two Melodies having been recorded to any degree.
Alba, based in Tampere, the third-largest city in Finland (100 miles northwest of Helsinki), is in the same class as BIS and other leading Scandinavian labels, coupling discriminating music-making with really great sounds. In Alba’s case, they feature a marginally richer ambiance than Bis with a bit less definition.
The leadoff item, Pehr Henrik Nordgren’s Portraits of Country Fiddlers, is 16 minutes of unalloyed delight which should, with its pizzicatos, sad lyricism and exuberant use of Finnish dance tunes (with a hint of Ives thrown in), be a crowd-pleasing favorite for string orchestras. Max Bruch’s Serenade for Strings is intermittently delightful, Aulis Sallinen’s Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik’s Funeral March (his third String Quartet, written to commemorate a famous Ostrobothnian fiddler) is sad, but Einojuhani Rautavaara’s cynical Ostrobothnian Polska has some wonderfully spaced-out moments to it, and Pekka Jalkanen’s six-minute The Serf of Viro for two violins and string orchestra – based on a grim old rune tune – is effectively minimalist.
The sound, as I have said, is superb. This is the very model of a five-star recording!
– Laurence Vittes