Aho: Symphony No. 15, Minea, Concerto for Double Bass - Munter, Vänskä, Kuusisto, Slobodeniouk
BIS BIS-1866 SACD
Classical - Orchestral
AHO, Kalevi (b.1949): Minea* (Concertante Music for Orchestra) (2008); Concerto** for Double Bass and Orchestra (2005); Symphony*** No.15 (2009–10)
Eero Munter (double-bass)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä*, Jaakko Kuusisto**, Dima Slobodeniouk*** (conductors)
'My apotheosis of the dance' is how Kalevi Aho describes his Symphony No.15. With two dance movements and rhythm a central element, the score calls for numerous percussion instruments, including non-Western ones such as bongos, darbuka, djembe and the riqq, an Arabian tambourine. The composer's interest in non-Western music and instruments has been evident in several recent works, such as his Symphony No. 14 (recorded on BIS-1686) and Oboe Concerto (BIS-1876).
It also played an important part during the creation of Minea, composed as a concert opener for the Minnesota Orchestra on the initiative of Osmo Vänskä, who also conducts the work here. Mentioning Indian ragas, Japanese shakuhachi music, Arabian rhythms and Eastern scales, Aho explains that his aim has been to expand his own sound world with elements of other classical music cultures, and to try to view the Western musical tradition from other perspectives.
Minea and Symphony No.15 frame the composer's Concerto for Double Bass, composed in 2005 for Eero Munter. In order to be able to write idiomatically for the instrument, the composer borrowed a double bass, and as work on the piece progressed, he actually grew proficient enough to try out most of the solo part – albeit at a very slow tempo, as he freely admits! The concerto offers the opportunity to hear the solo instrument in highly unusual contexts, for instance in the two accompanied cadenzas – the first a pizzicato duet with the harp, and the second a trio with two percussionists.
Throughout the disc we hear the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which for more than 20 years has made a remarkable commitment to the composer, performing and recording a large number of his works. The orchestra is conducted by Jaakko Kuusisto and Dima Slobodeniouk, as well as by the above-mentioned Osmo Vänskä.
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Recorded in February 2011 (Minea), in May 2010 (Double Bass Concerto) and in May 2011 (Symphony No. 15) at the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland, 24/44.1
Producers: Robert Suff (Minea); Martin Nagorni (Double Bass Concerto); Marion Schwebel (Symphony No. 15)
Sound engineers: Fabian Frank (Minea); Matthias Spitzbarth (Double Bass Concerto, Symphony No. 15)
Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Yamaha 02R96 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones
Post-production: Editing: Elisabeth Kemper (Minea); Martin Nagorni (Double Bass Concerto); Marion Schwebel (Symphony No. 15)
Mixing: Matthias Spitzbarth (Minea, Symphony No. 15); Martin Nagorni (Double Bass Concerto)
Executive producer: Robert Suff
Review by Graham Williams - January 27, 2014
Kalevi Aho is one of the most exciting and prolific composers of our time. He possesses a fertile musical imagination and has a total command of writing for the orchestra as the three works on this superbly recorded SACD demonstrate.
'Minea' (Concertante Music for Orchestra) was commissioned by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra in 2005 and premièred in 2009. The work (whose name is a truncated version of Minneapolis) was conceived as a virtuoso piece that would illustrate the qualities of all the players in that orchestra. Listening to it on this recording played by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra one is left in no doubt that Aho's aims have been achieved.
The work is scored for a huge orchestra - quadruple wind, six horns, four trumpets etc. plus an extensive and exotic percussion section that includes an Arabian hand drum - the darbuka.
After a long slow introduction, reminiscent of an Indian raga, the music increases in intensity, and following the entry of the rhythmic percussion, the music gathers pace while taking on an Oriental or Middle-Eastern character. Gradually both the energy and density of the music increase until it reaches its exciting Prestissimo conclusion. Though one can only conjecture what the Minnesota Orchestra might have brought to it, Vänskä and the Lahti players give this impressive piece their all.
Aho's 'Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra' (2005) is in five movements played without a break. Each of the movements seems designed to epitomize a different aspect of the instrument's qualities and also makes formidable demands on the technique and virtuosity of the soloist. Aho explores all the possibilities of the sounds that a double bass can produce while the lightly scored orchestral accompaniment ensures that the soloist is never overwhelmed. This is a challenging work, but the performance by Eero Munter who commissioned it is surely definitive. The conductor here is Jaakko Kuusisto.
I was lucky enough to attend the first performance of Aho's 15th Symphony given in the presence of the composer in Manchester by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena in 2011. This colourful and striking symphony made an immediate and positive impression both on me and, judging by its reception, on the Bridgewater Hall audience that evening. Though ostensibly written in four movements, the first two are played without a break as are the last two. The titles of the movements (I Nebbia, II Musica bizzarra, III Interludio, and IV Musica Strana) give a brief hint of what each conveys in musical terms.
The second and fourth movements are dance-like with strong rhythmic pulses whilst the first and third are more reflective. As usual with Aho the orchestration, with its clear textures, wide dynamics and imaginative use of percussion, is breathtaking. In his excellent liner notes, Aho, with some justification, calls this symphony his 'apotheosis of the dance'.
The performance, conducted here by Dima Slobodeniouk, is most impressive and is captured, like the other items on the disc, in vivid BIS sound quality.
This is a most welcome addition to Kalevi Aho's increasingly valuable discography and can be unhesitatingly recommended.
Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net