“Portraits” – NORDGREN: Portraits of Country Fiddlers; MAX BRUCH: Serenade for Strings; BARTOK: Romanian Folk Dances; SALLINEN: Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik’s Funeral March; ROUTAVAARA: Ostrobothnian Polka; GRIEG: Two Melodies; PEKKA JALKANEN: The Serf of Viro, for two violin and strings – Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/ Juha Kangas – Alba Multichannel SACD ABCD 205 (Distr. by Koch), 66:32 ****:

This string orchestra thrives in the Western Finnish region of Ostrobothnia – a hotbed of folk culture. The orchestra has commissioned many compositions drawing on folk traditions, and this SACD presents some examples. Composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren spent some years as composer-in-residence with the string orchestra.  His Portraits is a four movement symphonic treatment which uses authentic folk melodies, sometimes with a humorous touch. Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances originated as a piano work but has been transcribed for many different alternatives, The string arrangement by Arthur Willner makes one suppose the works were original conceived for string orchestra.

Aulis Sallinen wrote his third string quartet in an atonal style and later transcribed it for string orchestra. The polka by Routavaara was originally written for two cellos and pianos, but later the composer arranged it for the chamber orchestra. It uses an Eastern Finland folk tune known as The Devil and the Drunk. The pair of Grieg melodies are tuneful as expected, bringing Norwegian folk music elements to the folk-influenced strings program. And Jalkanen’s work is an example of Finnish minimalism, but uses the technique to create a nightmarish  mood.  The 5.1 channel surround brings a tremendous clarity and wide soundstaging to the rich massed string sounds.

 – John Sunier