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Aulis SALLINEN (b. 1935)
Shadows op. 52 (1982) [8:48]
Symphony No. 8 Autumnal Fragments op. 81 (2001) [24:02]
Violin Concerto op. 18 (1968) [18:03]
The Palace Rhapsody op. 72 (1995) [16:56]
Jaakko Kuusisto (violin)
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Ari Rasilainen
rec. 29 Nov-4 Dec 2004, Ludwugshafen, Philharmonie. DDD
CPO 999 972-2 [67:52]


Four works from across the span of Sallinen's creative years. Here is a Finnish composer whose first successes came in operas such as The Red Line and then in symphonies 1 and 3. All three were recorded during the late-1970s vinyl Götterdämmerung, the opera on Finlandia; the others on Bis.

Sallinen’s style is modern, definitely not a swooning post-romantic, but amongst the stubborn, discontinuous triumphs and terse, expressive ideas there is a real lyrical sympathy.

Shadows is all steely silvery awe with a wandering Sibelian bass which transforms into a billowing cannonade of vehemently threatening sound.

Symphony No. 8 represents the essence of discontinuity. It speaks of anxiety-haunted exploration. The opening is spattered with sparse woodblock clatter under an awed brass-led largo. This percussive clatter provides the germ for rhythmic propulsion alongside the pensive foreboding. Woodwind chirping suggests woodland glades and moments of rest among the green shadows and cool forest ponds. The bell finale is built from the notes of the name of the orchestra ConCErtGEBouw AmstErDAm. The title, Autumnal Fragments, relates to the World Trade Centre tragedy and 9/11. Any tendency towards woodland restfulness is expelled by the violence and nervy-jerky activity of most of the second part of the symphony of which this is the world premiere recording. That sense of pastoral Sibelian benediction returns at 15:32 and alternates with glimpses of horror. The work ends in a calming yet sterterously funereal cortege that finally slides into silence.

This is the third recording of the Violin Concerto. You can hear one on Campion coupled with the Sibelius and the irresistible but reactionary Janis Ivanovs' concerto; don’t miss it. The recording here is much more refined and also has greater grip at every dynamic level. This early work predates the wonderful Sinfonia which was his first symphony. This was originally coupled with No. 3 on a ikonic Bis LP which, along with Arto Noras's version of the cello concerto, really established Sallinen's orchestral music with me. The concerto is an intense song for violin and orchestra, very romantic in a modernist sense, somehow Sibelian without replicating the language, It is not 12 tone but feels modern and the zither and harpsichord encapsulate this at the start of the second movement. Rhythmic germs and fragments are at serious play in the finale which displays the excellently resonant sound-image captured by the CPO team. I am not at all sure that this a successful work as a whole but it certainly fascinates in its flood of incident and imagination.

Operas have played a central role in Sallinen's work. These range from his earliest celebrity: Ratsumies (The Horseman), 1973, to The Red Line 1976-1978, The King Goes Forth to France 1983, Kullervo 1986-88, The Palace 1991-93 and finally (so far) King Lear 1997. Shadows has its origin in The King Goes Forth while The Palace Rhapsody's operatic sources are self-evident. This work is scored for winds, percussion, harp and orchestra. It has a more candidly Sibelian accent and is a work of line and continuity much more than the Eighth Symphony. It is thoughtful, brooding yet with flashes of brilliance. Sallinen says that he has created it in much the same way as did the arrangers of ‘harmoniemusik’ operatic potpourris in the 18th century.

For the latest in Sallinen's symphonic line this CD is IT. Of the other items I make an urgent recommendation to you for The Palace Rhapsody which for all its operatic origins has a symphonic weight and momentum alongside some unusually jazzy, Malcolm Arnold asides and Ivesian interjections towards the end. This is a fascinating ‘confection’ not without humour but not such as to torpedo this impressively fantastic piece.

CPO’s second volume in their invaluable Sallinen Edition is as expected superbly documented and recorded.

Rob Barnett

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