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.