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
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.
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
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
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.