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Lili Paasikivi Joulu tullut on (Finnish Christmas Songs)
Armas MAASALO (1885 – 1957): Joulun kellot
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957): On hanget korkeat, nietokset op 1 No 5; En etsi valtaa, loistoa op 1 No 4; Jo joutuu ilta op 1 No 3; Joulu saapuu portin luo op 1 No 1; Tervehtii jo meitä op 1 No 2
P. J. HANNIKAINEN (1854 – 1924): Kautta tyynen, vienon yön
Selim PALMGREN (1878 – 1951): Ja neitsyt pikku poijuttansa
Karl COLLAN (1828 – 1871): Sylvian joululaulu
Martti TURUNEN (1902 – 1979): Me käymme joulun viettohon
Erkki MELARTIN (1875 – 1937): Kristuslapsen kehtolaulu
Otto KOTILAINEN (1868 – 1936): Jouluyö
P. J. HANNIKAINEN: Jouluattona
Anon. (15th Century): Tuo armon valkokyyhky
Otto KOTILAINEN: Varpunen jouluaamuna
Erkki MELARTIN: Marian kehtolaulu
P. J. HANNIKAINEN: Tuikkikaa, oi joulun tähtöset
Joonas KOKKONEN (1921 – 1996): Metsän joulu; Legenda; Jouluna
Lili Paasikivi (mezzo)
Musica Choir/Pekka Kostiainen (tr 1, 14, 17)
Jyväskylä Sinfonia/Ulf Söderblom,
Recorded in Taulumäen Church, Jyväskylä in February 2003
ONDINE ODE 1036-2 [47:36]

Listening to Christmas Songs in the beginning of May at first felt a bit weird, but after some time I forgot that we were so far from the festive season and was wholly engrossed in the songs and the singing. And let me start with the singing, since Lilli Paasikivi has a gorgeous voice which she uses with the utmost musicality. It is extremely beautiful, so far no signs of wear, she sings long legato phrases with fine shadings and she also has considerable power and dramatic temperament when needed. She is a true mezzo with great warmth and closer to being a contralto than a soprano, while most mezzos these days tend to be more sopranoish. Having made her debut at the Finnish National Opera as recently as 1998 she is still fairly in the beginning of her career, but she already belongs to the best present day mezzos in what is already a crowded field. Whether you are interested in Christmas songs or not – especially when sung in Finnish – you should give this disc a try – and not only for the singing.

The repertoire is probably unknown to most non-Finnish listeners, with the exception of the 15th century German Christmas song Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (track 14), which also is the only song here by a non-Finnish composer. Everything is sung in Finnish, but it should be noted that several of the original texts are Swedish, most of them by Topelius, together with Runeberg the most well-known of the Finnish authors writing in Swedish in the 19th century. Tracks 3 – 6, 9 and 15 are all translations of Topelius texts, moreover there is also a Virgin Mary song by Oscar Levertin (track 16) and Melartin’s Kristuslapsen kehtolaulo is from the German Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

There are of course Christmas songs by famous composers, but most of the well-known ones are either anonymous or by more or less obscure song writers. Not so here, though. The majority of the composers represented here are important names in Finnish music life, not only Sibelius, but Selim Palmgren should also be known, not least as a writer of fine piano music, Hannikainen and Melartin are also famous as is of course one of the great late 20th century giants, Joonas Kokkonen, whose three songs bring the whole recital to a convincing end.

It was a good idea to include all five of Sibelius’s opus 1 songs, for some reason performed not in cronological order (or maybe they are – in the order of composition; I have not been able to find any information about that). In Sweden only Opus 1 No 4 (track 3) is known to people in general, but instead it belongs to the most often performed Christmas songs, sung with the original text Giv mig ej glans, ej prakt. This song could be a perfect introduction to all the virtues of Lilli Paasikivi’s singing, which I rehearsed in the beginning of the review. It is definitely one of the highlights of the disc. Others are Karl Collan’s Sylvias julvisa (track 9), also a Topelius setting and a melody that sticks in one’s memory. Turunen’s Me käymme joulun viettohon is lively and makes a welcome contrast to the many medium tempo or slow songs, while the two Melartin songs (tracks 11 and 16) are harmonically more daring, never staying long in a certain key in an impressionistic manner. Melartin was one of the most important figures in Finnish music life during the first third of the 20th century, as a teacher, administrator and composer. In that field he picked up influences from many directions, even from the 1920s modernism, but he was essentially a lyricist and although he composed in most genres – one opera and six symphonies among his major works – his 350 piano pieces and 300 songs are regarded as his most consummate compositions.

In Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (track 14) and Hannikainen’s Tuikkikaa, oi joulun tähtöset (track 17) the orchestra gets a well deserved rest after much fine work during the recital and Paasikivi is backed up by the excellent Musica Choir, which is also heard on the very first track, together with the orchestra, in the moving Joulun kellot. The three Kokkonen songs, written in the 1950s and 1960s are a far cry from the tonal language we can hear in his symphonies and operas, the lively Metsän joulu with its sparkling accompaniment and the rhythmically alert little Jouluna separated by the more inward Legenda, forming a miniature song cycle.

The Jyväskylä Sinfonia, conducted by the experienced Ulf Söderblom, plays very well indeed the fine accompaniments, most of them by Ilkka Kuusisto,. The sound quality is beyond reproach, with excellent balance between soloist and orchestra. The disc is obviously aimed at the Finnish market, since the booklet and the cover only have information in Finnish, including the sung texts, and only a couple of pages in English about the soloist, conductor, orchestra and choir. Playing time is not exactly over-generous, but none of these remarks should deter anyone from listening to this wonderful singer in songs that may be new to most listeners but are well worth the acquaintance.

Göran Forsling

 

 



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