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Symphonies complete; Comedy Overture; Suites from Okon Fuoko and The Ostrobothnians.
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Sakari
Chandos CHAN 6626(2) [66.55+71.25] Midprice
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A truism, often overlooked, is the inescapable link between originality and familiarity. The arrival of this Finnish music was serendipitous, just back from Helsinki after covering the Avanti Summer Sounds festival for Seen&Heard.

Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) has a head start in my book because I am hearing his music for the first time (though I knew the name) and I rapidly regretted that this had been so for half a century after his lifetime. As a boy he played the kantele (a Finnish zither) and later studied at Helsinki, quickly becoming highly regarded by his teacher Sibelius, who predicted success as a symphonist. Kajanus (who had recently given Sibelius's new 5th - and whose first recording of it was a landmark in my boyhood introduction to early 20th C music) championed Madetoja's music, which was generally well received in Scandinavia.

I approached this double-CD by stealth, as it were, listening to the smaller pieces first. Comedy Overture (1923) is fresh and well crafted, restrained, well-orchestrated and a pleasure on first acquaintance. With three good tunes, worked in rondo form, I suspect it would get any concert, or a Prom, off to a good start. The suite from his successful nationalistic opera (1923) begins with a long-held high tonic pedal, illustrating the vast plains of Oborthnia, where Madetoja spent his childhood. There is a Prisoner's Song and several folk-type tunes. The other suite, the first of three projected from a failed ballet, is bolder, with rhythmic interest and pentatonic ('Japanese') harmony, and perhaps more of its music should be rescued.

The third symphony (1926) is reticent and ends quietly, eschewing dramatic gesture, bring to mind once Sibelius's cool No. 6. I liked it a lot. Subtle orchestration and memorable melodies make it very endearing; another work that might be broadcast regularly if it were British and even risked in concert, but for the marketing double-bind that the composer's name being unknown, regular symphony concert-goers, who would find it a pleasing novelty, easy to relate to even at first hearing, would not buy tickets. That is where CDs come in to square the circle.

No. 1 (premiered under the composer's baton in 1916) is concise (23 mins) and 'one of the most mature of first symphonies' (Erkki Salmenhaara). There are distant echoes of Strauss & of Sibelius No.3 and it holds the attention easily.. The tonal relationships are surprising; notionally in F, it finishes in A. No. 2 in Eb, composed soon afterwards, commemorates his brother and a friend killed during Finland's civil war. It is on a larger scale, with the slow movement following attacca after an unresolved dissonant chord ends the first. It ends resignedly in a modal E minor.

Well recorded and played in 1992 with conviction and apparent authority by the Icelanders under Petri Sakari, this is a thoroughly worth while release in the Chandos COLLECT Series.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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