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CD: Alba

Joonas KOKKONEN (1921-1996)
Five Bagatelles (1968) [12:34]; Religioso (1950s) [1:19]; Sonatina (1956) [8:12]; Two Little Preludes (1943) [4:23]; Pielavisi Suite (1939) [16:29]; Impromptu (1938) [3:27]
Janne Mertanen (piano)
rec. Järvenpää Hall, Sibelius Auditorium, 6-8 May 1998. DDD
world premiere recordings
ALBA ABCD127 [46:31]

CD: Alba

Usko MERILÄINEN (b.1930)
Papillons (1969) [17:34]; Piano Sonata No. 2 (1966) [15:42]; Piano Sonata No. 4 Epyllion II (1974) [25:35]; Piano Sonata No. 5 (1992) [14:14]
Jaana Kärakkäinen (piano); Ilmo Ranta (piano II in Papillons)
rec. Järvenpää Hall, Sibelius Auditorium, 28-29 August 1993, 18-19 January 1994. DDD
ALBA ABCD106 [73:05]
Experience Classicsonline

Alba introduce us to the piano music of two Finnish composers born within nine years of each other.

Kokkonen's solo piano music has not had much prominence. This collection traces its development in reverse chronology. We start with the very imaginative and transparently dreamy, leaf-swirling and driftingly dissonant Bagatelles. This contrasts with the little Religioso. The 1953 Sonatina was written for the composer to play rather than to any commission. It has some of the centred placid feel of the Bagatelles but its rumpled explosive air is redolent of Shostakovich. The dissonance has cleared for the Two Little Preludes written in 1943 while Kokkonen was a young officer in the Finnish Army conflict with the USSR. This is melodious and springy music - playful and wistful. Pielavesi is saturated with nature impressions absorbed during summer holidays at his brother's home. Lyrical and free of discord it epitomises the Scandinavian summer in language that darts and lulls. It has a vaguely French Ravelian accent but the Finnish voice is strong. It is a sheerly lovely piece across movements entitled: Preludietto, Nocturne, Rain, Clouds at Evening and Morning Wind. The last piece with its cut-glass and brittle spray of notes is is the most original of the five. Young proficient pianists should seek out this music - it will captivate. From the year before the suite comes the 1938 Impromptu which is stormily rhetorical in a way reminiscent of a turbulent Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau.

The Meriläinen disc takes us by the hand through the tentative dissonance and Nancarrow-like sprints of Papillons. This is tough music yet atmospheric. The same might be said of all four works. If you have trouble with dissonance and fragmentation of the lyric line then you need to try elsewhere. Meriläinen's Second Sonata is musing, wayward, glum and aggressive, stern yet concise. The Fourth Sonata is also uncompromising, fantastical, absorbed in the articulation and clear presentation of the bass realms of the instrument. The title refers to an orchestral work with this title: the Lyrical Legend of 1963. After the epic duration of the Fourth Sonata its successor returns after two decades to the same duration as the second sonata but here in a single movement. The music remains thorny and fractured in its expression and progress. Glass smithereens fly, stutter and swirl. Harri Suilamo in his liner-notes draws a parallel with Meriläinen's Kinetic Poem of 1981 - the composer's Fourth Piano Concerto.

Fascinating music-making from an unflinching modernist who has no time for ingratiating style changes.

Rob Barnett



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