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Finnish Music for Strings
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b. 1928) Hommage à Zoltan Kodály (1981-82)
Aulis SALLINEN (b. 1935) Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik’s Funeral March (1969/1981)
Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (b. 1944) Concerto for Strings (1982)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957) Rakastava (The Lover) (1893/1912)
The Helsinki Strings/Csaba and Géza Szilvay
Recorded in the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland on 26 September 2001 (Live recording) (Rautavaara) and in Roihuvuori Church, Helsinki, Finland in April, December 2003 (Sallinen, Nordgren, Sibelius)
WARNER APEX 2564 61976-2 [63:31]

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The Helsinki Strings was founded by its conductors Csaba and Géza Szilvay in 1972. It has fifty members, who are students of the East Helsinki Music Institute and the Sibelius Academy and they are aged between 10 and 20! That’s hard to believe after hearing their confident playing. However this is the cream of young string players in Finland. Through the years many of today’s professional musicians have played in the orchestra, which have given concerts in 25 countries, besides Finland, and released 30 records, a couple of them also available on Warner Apex.

The present programme is mostly made up of contemporary works, requiring high technical skill of the players. However as a listener one can easily digest the music if one has an open mind and you aren’t too unfamiliar with what has happened during the last 50 years or so.

The doyen among Finnish composers, Einojuhani Rautavaara, has become something of a cult figure lately, and deservedly so. The Hommage à Zoltan Kodaly, was composed in honour of the centenary of Kodaly (1982) and is dedicated to the Helsinki Strings. It is a fascinating and moving piece, which starts in a sombre atmosphere with a lonely bird complaining. Then come more aggressive string phrases out of which grows a melody in the cellos, punctuated by the upper strings. A soft section follows with some twittering sounds, then a new melody in the upper strings develops, first searching for identity then becoming more confident. This is music with a lot of emotion and big gestures. A brittle, sorrowful episode leads to a rhythmically intense part with prominent double basses, followed by complete stillness. After some more agitation the music finally dies away.

Sallinen’s Some aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik’s Funeral March started life as his String Quartet No. 3 in 1969, intended to be a pedagogical composition. In the early 1980s he added a double bass part to make it suitable for string orchestra. The funeral march is well-known in Finland and is not used only as a theme for variations. It returns several times in its original form while at the same time being varied in different styles from baroque to modern time cluster-technique. It is a thrilling composition, full of variety and rhythmical life. There is a recording on BIS CD-560 with the Tapiola Sinfonietta under Osmo Vänskä. With a much smaller body of strings they produce a leaner sound but both versions are fine interpretations of what has become one of Sallinen’s most popular compositions.

The longest piece here is Nordgren’s Concerto for Strings (1982), playing for more than 26 minutes and divided into three movements. It is a narrative work, where the titles of the movements are meant to "guide the listener’s imagination in a certain direction, although not too strictly" as the composer says in his liner notes.

The gloomy first movement, Premonitions of bad day, with a few eruptions of fear, mirroring the present-day situation, is followed by Dance away your worries!, vital but wholly free from gloom.

The long final movement, A belated prayer for achieving fulfilment, brings consolation through its stillness, with long silences for contemplation. There is more power, more drama in the middle of the movement, but then the prayer mood returns and the end is very moving.

Rakastava (The Lover) is quite well-known, I think, and belongs to Sibelius’s best early works. It was first written for male choir but underwent several revisions, the last one in 1911-12, which is the version for strings and timpani played here. The Szilvay brothers ensure that the first movement gets the right ebb and flow – this is emotional music. The second movement whirls past in an almost Mendelssohnian way, hushed, beautiful. The finale with its dramatic Good Night first part – with a fine violin solo from Lea Tuuri – and the emotionally charged Farewell – with the dark cello solo played by Csilla Szilvay – bring the composition, and the CD to a moving end.

I am filled with admiration for these young musicians and their conductors and the music is well worth getting acquainted with. The value of this budget priced issue is further enhanced by the commentaries on the music by the composers themselves.

Göran Forsling

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