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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

Kalevi AHO (b.1949)
Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Recorded Jan 1998, Church of the Cross, Lahti
BIS-CD-936 [68.00]

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Kalevi Aho, a composer who belongs to the next generation, is not a great radical, but he is an accomplished, indeed expert, practitioner who is open to developments in the latter half of the last century. His 1st Symphony and Violin Concerto with Hiljaisuus (Silence) have maintained a welcome place in my collection of Scandinavian music for many years (BIS CD 396 Crotchet  ). As is their way with composers they support, BIS has an extensive series of Aho recordings in progress.

His student Second Symphony (1970 revised.1995 with new scherzo material) is structurally a one movement triple fugue in five sections, slow beginning and end, gaining impetus to presto in the centre. This is a work that will please those who value Sibelius 7 importantly, as I do. It too is logical and strongly contrapuntal, but I found it compelling on two hearings.

Aho's Seventh Symphony is programmatic, derived from an abortive opera based on Capek, to have been called Insect Life. With dung beetles, butterflies, grasshoppers, warring ants and a lullaby for dead dayflies it offers starting points for a rich imagination. I remembered having read somewhere that when humankind wipes itself out, insects will take over. During the dreadful week of the American Tragedy, those thoughts came back as I listened to this music, which is eclectic, often satirical yet far from funny, exaggerating modern life with distortion, the music 'constantly going astray' to keep the listener wondering where it is going. It is both post-modernist and inherently critical of post-modernism.

With excellent orchestral playing and BIS's high production standards this CD can be recommended.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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