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Väinö RAITIO (1891 – 1945)
Queen of the Flowers: Works for Small Orchestra
Waltz (1939) [3:59]
Humoresque (1934) [2:44]
Idyll (1938) [4:27]
Tango (1931) [2:48]
Scherzo (1935) [4:14]
Danse grotesque (1932) [1:42]
Valse mignonne (1941) [2:56]
Maidens on the headlands (1935) [7:24]
Summer Pictures from Häme (1935) [15:55]
Forest Idylls (1935) [12:56]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Tuomas Ollila
Recorded: Tapiola Hall, Espoo, April 2001
ONDINE ODE 975-2 [59:40]

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In much the same way as near-contemporaries Ernest Pingoud (1887-1942) and Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958), Väinö Raitio burst onto the Finnish musical scene as a modernist steering clear of Sibelius’s overpowering shadow. Instead they looked to Scriabin, Strauss and French Impressionism to enlarge their expressive palettes. Many of their progressive works met with scepticism and even hostility, and had to wait many long years before being properly assessed. In the meantime, the hostile reception of their forward-looking works had a considerable impact on their later pieces which often displayed a tendency towards less ‘offending’, harmless Neo-classicism. In the case of Aarre Merikanto, another consequence was that he mutilated some of his more advanced scores, and it took years of hard work for the likes of Paavo Heininen to reconstruct the missing parts.

The pieces by Raitio recorded here were all written between the early 1930s and the early 1940s. At that he stage he composed, for the radio orchestra, many shorter, lighter works in neo-classical idiom, with the occasional nod towards Impressionism,. Most of them are superbly crafted miniatures of great charm rather than of profundity. They are all brilliantly scored for small orchestral forces; and most may be described as light music of quality, or – better still – as light classics. That said, Maidens on the headlands composed in 1935 (the centenary year of the Kalevala) is more a short symphonic rhapsody on a folk melody and the more substantial Summer Pictures from Häme and Forest Idylls (both from 1935) are rather more developed and complex. The former is a suite of Impressionistic sketches, always beautifully scored and often quite evocative. The latter often has a slightly expressionist ring suggesting fantastic visions. Both are nevertheless a far cry from Raitio’s earlier, more searching works such as Moonlight on Jupiter (still unavailable in modern commercial recording, and an obvious priority) or The Swans, to name but two. Incidentally, it is to be noted that Raitio did not give any opus numbers to his lighter works, such as the ones on this disc.

Several years ago, Ondine released a CD with some important works by Raitio (Ondine ODE 790-2, which I was unable to hear); but – curiously enough – this disc is no longer in their catalogue. I wish that Ondine had chosen to re-issue it as part of their anniversary series, rather than the present collection of later, more traditional pieces. Nevertheless this provides an attractive programme but nowhere near as stimulating as that of the earlier disc paying a deserved tribute to Raitio’s more innovative music.

Anyway, these performances by the Tapiola Sinfonietta are as polished and committed as possible; and Ondine’s excellent, natural recorded sound gives Raitio’s impeccable scoring its due. A very enjoyable release.

Hubert Culot

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