“Toccata – Finnish Guitar Music” = ERIK BERGMAN: Suite pour Guitare; JARKKO HARTIKAINEN: alone; AKI YLI-SALOMÄKI: Odota; ADAM VILAGI: The Threatened Assassin; SAULI ZINOVJEV: Elegietta; JOUNI KAIPAINEN: Tenebrae – Otto Tolonen, guitar – SIBA Records SACD-1011 (but Not an SACD), 48:08 [Distr. by Naxos] (11/19/2013) ***:

I am certainly no expert on classical guitar playing although I do enjoy what seems like good guitar music played very well. Such is the case here in this very interesting collection of works by Finnish composers, performed quite impressively by Otto Tolonen.

The collection begins with what is arguably the most traditional work in the set. Erik Bergman’s Suite for Guitar (referred to in the booklet notes as Series, op.32, by the way) is a fairly straight forward three movement work that sounds actually a bit Spanish in several places. The composer acknowledges that the middle Canzonetta was written in Venice and portrays some of the strange effects that lighting has on the overall mood of the city and its canals.

Jarkko Hartikainen’s alone (titled in all lower case by the composer) is a very abstract and mysterious work. Hartikainen is a guitarist himself and spent many weeks traveling all over Europe by himself experimenting with extended techniques and little snippets of playing that evoked a sense of solitude and mystery. This work, written for Tolonen, actually became Hartikainen’s first official opus and is abstract to be sure.

Odota by Aki Yli-Salomaki is a fairly short and meandering work. The title means “wait” and the composer acknowledges the very free form, somewhat pensive nature of the work. It is a part of a series of works he wrote for solo instruments on the nature of slowness and stasis. The series was titled Viipyillen (“lingering”) As the composer says in the booklet notes, “The music has no aspiration, no destination, it just is.”

The absolute most intriguing title in this collection is, no doubt, The Threatened Assassin, by Adam Vilagi and was written for Otto Tolonen. Actually the title comes from the name of a painting by the French Dadaist René Magritte, which depicts two figures lurking just outside the doorway of a room in which is a seemingly dead nude woman on a couch and a gentleman looking at a phonograph. This disturbing imagery is reflected somewhat in the alternately staccato “menacing” strumming and the atonal floating around the fingerboard. This is a very strange work that succeeds in its intent.

The shortest work here, Elegietta, by Sauli Zinvjev, is as the title implies; a short, elegiac, very pretty, somewhat sad work. The composer calls it a “sigh.”  On the other hand, Tenebrae (Latin: “darkness, gloom”) by Jouni Kaipainen is the longest work here. The composer uses the religious nature of the “Tenebrae” in Christian Holy Week services to create a very plaintive, sometimes mournful atmosphere. Of the composers represented here, Kaipainen is the one I was most familiar with and this work is my favorite on the program.

This collection is certainly unusual and maybe even a little mixed in its results. Additionally, this album bears the unexplained dedication (on the inside front cover), “To the gloom of Haapamäki”.  There is a small town that apparently served as a railway depot by that name in Finland’s Keuruu district as well as a composer named Sampo Haapamäki. While some of the music in this program is a little dark and introspective, I certainly hope that nothing unfortunate happened to the composer or the population of that hamlet. Regardless, this is good, occasionally provocative, music played very well by Otto Tolonen.

—Daniel Coombs