Kai Nieminen calls himself a ‘painter in music’ and
this triptych of works goes a long way to proving the point.
Palomar is his Flute Concerto, written in 2001, and
its pellucid impressions suggest a language of subtle hues
and colouration. It’s full of flute and harp exchanges
but also sports some traditional sounding, grounding horn harmonies.
The orchestration is light and subtle, glittering with the
concentration of a sextet in places, and revelling in firefly
and crepuscular distinction. It’s a two movement work,
the finale of which is called La Notte (Night, Old People
and Birds) - which is both charming in itself and an indication
of his pluralistic inclinations in general. Here we find loquacious
voicings, incessant birdsong in which all nature seems soprano-like
to be teeming, luscious and avidly vibrating. Then an achingly
beautiful and warmly hued string melody courses romantically
through the undergrowth, lovely as a Rota song, before the
birdsong, though now less agitated resumes. It’s a fine
work, impressionistic, less reliant on Messiaen than you may
think from my description - and charming.
The Clarinet Concerto was written the following year, 2002.
It’s titled Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices.
The writing here is fuller than in the Flute Concerto. Echoing
phrases abound as do moments of stasis and, once again - and
this is a repeated feature of his writing - rarefied chamber
sized clarity. The second movement, The Toilers of the Sea,
is in effect an Andante, lyrically spun and irradiated
by percussive colour. Lines thin to single voices, before a
frantic clarinet outburst erupts, pitch twisting and accompanied
by torrid percussion. This is a finely judged work, theatrical
but surely shaped, and never off-putting in its vigour.
Finally there is the oldest work, written in 1995: Vicoli
in ombra (Alleys in Twilight). A stalking, walking
bass motif starts this one and orchestral colours vary from
burnished windy strings to more locally vocalised persistent
wind writing. There is a real sense of narrative development
here, something of which Nieminen is an august exponent. Though
the mood darkens somewhat and the work ends quietly it’s
The performances are terrific. The Flute Concerto was written
for Patrick Gallois who both plays and conducts (throughout)
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä. Add to this exemplary
sound quality, and you have a contemporary portfolio of approachable
colour and incident.