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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Väinö RAITIO (1891-1945)
Queen of the Flowers
1. Valssi - Waltz [3:59]
2. Humoreski - Humoresque [2:44]
3. Idylli - Idyll [4:27]
4. Tango [2:48]
5. Scherzo (Felis domestica) [4:14]
6. Danse grotesque [1:42]
7. Valse mignonne [2:56]
8. Neiet niemien nenissä - Maidens on the headlands (Symphonic poem) (1935) [7:24]
Kesäkuvia Hämeestä - Summer pictures from Häme [15:55]
9. Vanhassa puistossa - In an old park [3:15]
10. Kesäyö - Summer night [2:26]
11. Paimenlaulu - Herdsman's song [2:09]
12. Punahattaroita - Red clouds [2:22]
13. Venelaulu - Boat song [2:40]
14. Kukkien kuningatar - Queen of the flowers [3:01]
Metsäidyllejä - Forest idylls [12:56]
15. Metsäpolku - Forest path [2:52]
16. Metsälampi - Forest pond [2:53]
17. Metsätähti - Forest star [3:52]
18. Metsäpuro - Forest stream [3:18]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Tuomas Ollila
rec. Tapiola Hall, Espoo, April 2001. DDD
ONDINE ODE 9750 [59:40]

 

The Finnish composer Väinö Raitio is from the next generation of composers from Sibelius. Rather like Frank Bridge his style of expression went through several phases. The first, influenced by Debussy and Scriabin was richly fantastic; something like a cross between Loeffler, Prokofiev and Griffes. The second, broadly occupying the 1920s, saw him as one of Finland’s leading modernists. His harmonies were assertively atonal as is apparent from his tone poem Antigone (on Ondine ODE 790-2). As the decade progressed rhythmic content became less of an issue for him with scores such as Moonlight on Jupiter (championed by Paavo Berglund on Finnish Radio) becoming static statements of luxuriant colour. Two operas at the beginning of the 1930s marked a linguistic metamorphosis. Dissonance was left behind and nationalist melodic character gripped him. These works for small orchestra are from that third era. The Valse, Scherzo (Felis Domestica), Valse Mignonne and the Tango have Iberian accents with castanets adding to the Hispanic flavouring. The music is sometimes pointedly playful in the manner of Sibelius’s King Christian II music. This is contrasted with a poetic element very similar to Khachaturian’s much later music from Gayaneh (1:35 in the Scherzo). Danse Grotesque suggests a vivid fantastic insight with tight rhythmic work and influences flowing from both Shostakovich and Prokofiev. If Debussy is a presence in the early music it is Ravel, with his precision, ecstatic abandon and clarity, who comes to mind here.

The tone poem Maidens on the headlands dates from 1935 - the centenary of the Kalevala. To ears brought up on Sibelius these fantastic pictures and gestures might well conjure up Moroccan scenes both lively and reflective. Whatever cultural flavour is conveyed the writing is lucid, poetic and sharply focused.

The Summer Pictures from Hamë are in six atmospheric and surprisingly romantic movements. In two of the movements a serenading violin floats free of the orchestral canvas. While the Herdsman’s song is vigorous with flighty writing for the woodwind much of the rest of this suite tends towards languor and colour. The Boat-Song has a prominent role for piano. Throughout the focus is soft.

Lastly there are the four Forest Idylls. The title immediately suggests MacDowell. These movement once again tend towards the romantic although enlivened with Firebird-like fairy-tale touches; listen to the start of the Forest stream finale which, in its dazzling if gnomic kaleidoscopic whirl, also looks to Rimsky-Korsakov.

The disc is well-documented. Its downside is the slightly shrill tone to the Tapiola Sinfonietta’s violins when a greater opulence would have been more apt.

This is one of a series of twenty CDs freshly packaged in new slip cases to mark Ondine’s twentieth anniversary. The original discs have been selected from their substantial back catalogue. It is a pleasure to have the excuse to review these discs (including Sibelius’s Karelia music, Kancheli’s symphonies and Taneyev’s orchestral music) for the site.

Raitio is a fascinating character. If his music as represented here looks backwards to the examples of Mendelssohn, MacDowell and Raff it does so through a lens admitting a twentieth century freshness from the likes of Prokofiev and Ravel. Don’t miss this highly attractive music.

Rob Barnett



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