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Nordgren: A Finnish Elegy - Valo, Harju, Kangas

Nordgren: A Finnish Elegy - Valo, Harju, Kangas

Alba Records  ABCD 425

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Nordgren: Violin Concerto No. 4, Rock Score, Horn Concerto

Jari Valo (violin)
Jukka Harju (horn)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra
Juha Kangas (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - October 24, 2018

Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren died in 2008, leaving a legacy of 8 symphonies, no less than 25 concertos for diverse instruments,11 string quartets and much else. He wrote more for the string orchestra than any other Finnish composer. Largely self-taught, he was fiercely proud of his independent approach to composition, never being wedded solely to one theory or style of composition. Deeply interested in Finnish folk music of all types, his sound world develops from superimposition of many melodic strands, a "melodic-polyphonic cluster technique" as he called it. A 40-year partnership with violinist Juha Kangas, founder of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, has been a major impetus for Nordgren's composing career.

The programme is a triple of Nordgren's pieces presented by Alba: Concerto No. 4 for violin and String Orchestra Op. 90 (1994), 'Rock Score' Op. 100 (1996) and Concerto for Horn and Strings Op.95, (1996). In the concertos of this programme, Nordgren follows his narrative processes - unpredicted and taking its own course, as it were. However, 'Rock Score' Op. 100 (for inauguration of the Folk Culture Centre in Kausten and its hall on the granite rock) is notably different. This SACD has an art title, "A Finnish Elegy" and this seems inappropriate. However, after a little investigation of the SACD's art, I think I found the answer to "A Finnish Elegy".

"Painter Hugo Sinberg (1875-1917) painted a "Finnish Elegy" (1895), now in a private collection but still attractive. The challenging Horn Concerto was premièred by a Swedish horn soloist Soren Hermansson in 1997. No other artist has played it until now. The concerto was born at the time when Nordren lost his mother. Almost violent sorrow alternating with uttermost fragile colours, mixed with scenes of folk fiddlers, sketch the profile of this magnificent and rarely heard concerto. At the last section of the piece you can even spot the tune of Kaarlela church bells". This all could relate to "A Finnish Elegy".

Jari Valo (born 1961) studied violin at the Kokkola Conservative - while playing folk music. He won the Finnish national Kuopio Violin Competition in 1985, but he already he was the expert leader of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra from1972-1994. Following, he was the 1st leader of the Finnish Radio Symphony since1994. He is a very active soloist violin as a teacher and world visitor as a concert player.

Nordgren's Concerto No. 4 for Violin and String Orchestra (1994) is a single movement, and folllows his system of 48 notes. Christoph Schlüren, writer of the disc's booklet, who evidently knew Nordgren personally, said that the composer told him "a work that is very close to me". Indeed, there is a great deal of intensity both in Valo and the Orchestra, with a wonderful darkness of soft sound at the start, from the opening, to the middle, where Schlüren says that "here the D minor chord in the simplest and subtle manner and is - in my opinion - of the most passages in late-20th century". Nordgren used the key area of F, attracting it as "seemingly like a force of Nature". In the last section, strings go into soft sweet choral mode and several female voices sing a phrase with a loving gentle sound, then back to the violin. This happens three times, with the last coming quieter and nearer the back of Snellman Hall. Without a Score to check, I can't check if the "singing" is by Valo on double strings or a few female voices from the orchestra.

Rock Score op. 100 was written in (1997) composed for the opening of the lovely hillside granite with concert hall and Folk Culture Centre at Kaustinen (Central Ostrobothnia). The première was given by the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. Its luminous textures and folk music allusions make for a singularly haunting 12 minutes. Christoph Schüren pointed out that "the textures are different to that of the concertos, as the festive multipolyphonic 19 part evocation on F major (the Nature) play Anguish, English chords and folk dances which bounce at the end. There are Jazz-like and a crescendo to explode at the end." Despite the anguish-like sections, you can get dancing ones - making laughter, which was not usually Nordgren's way. Fine Entertainment!

Jukka Harju, at the age of 9 found the horn, and two years later he performed Mozart's Horn Concerto in Eb KV447 at a concert in Dublin broadcast for TV by European radio stations. He went on to the studies in the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki with Kalervo Kulmala and later in Vienna University for Music and Performing Arts with Roland Berger, principal horn of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Harju has succeeded in several music competitions. By winning the Lieksa International Horn Competition 2005 he was nominated as a Brass player of the year 2006 in Finland. On 2008 Harju settled on the leading chair of the horn group in the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has appeared as a guest principal horn in l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Bamberger Symphoniker, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Comics Oper Berlin. He has taught in Metropolia University for Applied Sciences and for now he has a horn class in Sibelius Academy at the University of Arts Helsinki.

Harju begins with his solo horn increasing from soft to loud, melchancholic and tender, and expressive sadlessness ; the next ones follow but manipulate the tonalities, quite amusingly. Next come more dissonances until it plays a quasi-folk melody amongst the turbulent polyphony, which in turn arrives at the real quasi-folk music section. Next is playful with colourful and strain blends, and this moves on with a solo plucking double bass while a solo cello has fun with a sort ofChristophe Schl jazz. Finally, the first mood reappears and every goes faster and faster, finally all stops with the whole ensemble playing at D as if sadness had arrived.

The SACD Production: engineering and edited were in charge of the well-known Simon Fox-Gál, who passes 5.1 mix and SACD mastering to Jonathan, London. The recording was done at the Snellman Hall, Kokkola (2017-2016). Cover painting is by Hugo Simberg (1873-1917), Tempora on canvas). "The Whole Range of Feelings" is the title of Christoph 's Schlüren booklet, very helpful as he Nordgren had been together. All the texts, however, are in a very small font.

Sonically, the strings are presented with great presence, detail and perspective in a neutral acoustic environment which suits the music perfectly, and the wide dynamic range they produce is captured faithfully. In 5.1 multichannel, there is good extended bass, much of which comes through the subwoofer, but the overall balances are superb. The Ostrobothian players, and indeed Juha Kangas, seem to have been born to perform these works, and it is easy to see why Nordgren's music was chosen for Valo & Harju

Without doubt this is a recording milestone in the relationship of Juho Kangas, his orchestra and the two composers most associated with them, and therefore highly commendable.

Copyright © 2018 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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