a composer of his importance Erkki Salmenhaara has not been
well treated by record companies.
disc represents an opportunity to become acquainted with four
of his most important and influential orchestral works, including
the Adagietto, generally considered one of his masterpieces.
Salmenhaara started as a typical sixties radical, but by the
age of twenty-five had begun to embrace a neo-romantic style
which combined certain then up-to-date procedures with a harmonic
system based on triads; a controversial, almost scandalous move
in 1966. He also has a penchant for injecting quotes from other
composers and using them as part of his basic material. In addition
there are stylistic obeisances to Mahler and Sibelius, one of
his most charming traits.
the four works recorded here, three are from the composer’s
mid-to-late twenties when he was making the transition from
experimentation and “happenings” to the first stage of his neo-romanticism.
Many people claim Salmenhaara as a Finnish minimalist, but he
himself correctly rejected this idea.
first work Suomi-Finland is described by the composer
as a “non-symphonic poem”, a description that could apply to
much Nordic music. At first it sounds like a mélange of his
favorite Mahler and Sibelius, with another Sibelius acolyte,
Howard Hanson, thrown in. The basic material, not really a motif,
but a succession of chords, underlies everything that happens
but is used in a way that is truly original and avoids the impersonality
frequently found in composers like Bentzon and Koppel. The middle
section of the piece is more truly Sibelian and a little less
original, but still very interesting. The last section offers
a good if not perfect summary of what has gone before, and is
impressive for a composer of only 25.
the spirits of Mahler and Sibelius hang over Suomi-Finland,
La Fille en Mini-jupe actually quotes Debussy
and Beethoven, not only musically, but of course in its title.
The work has an extended orchestral part for piano that not
only plays and elaborates on Debussy and Beethoven’s pieces
but reminds us of them even when playing original Salmenhaara.
Besides La Fille aux cheveux de Lin, the opening
of the Waldstein sonata and the Ode to Joy theme
from the Ninth Symphony form part of the structure. The work
is harmonically more astringent than Suomi-Finland and
the harmony frequently sounds similar to that of Malcolm
Arnold. An ominous background is provided to the themes of Debussy
and Beethoven, sometimes coming to the fore and sometimes combining
with the pre-existing material in fascinating ways. The final
elaboration of the Debussy theme is quite moving, although a
are not finished with Suomi-Finland. Some fifteen years
after the work’s completion, the composer took a fragment of
one “theme” and used it as the basis for his Adagietto
(1981). The work begins with shifting chords and is
taken through many moods, most of them coming as a surprise
to the listener. Emotionally this is one of the composer’s most
effective works. In the fifteen years since Suomi-Finland
Salmenhaara had come into his own in terms of harmony and structure.
His always-present developmental ability had greatly matured
and he had also gained the ability to express himself concisely.
All in all, a highpoint in the composer’s output.
Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) we have
the very first of the works marking Salmenhaara’s return to
tonality. But where the other works on this disc were written
for the concert hall, Le Bateau Ivre was created to accompany
a television presentation of Rimbaud’s text against a changing
background of visual effects. The composer is still using Ligeti’s
field technique, but the fields consist of superimposed triads
and the music has a definite sense of destination that was lacking
in many works of that time. It must have provided a fascinating
background for the poem. The work builds in intensity through
a series of semi-crescendos around a repeated cello figure.
About two-thirds of the way through it becomes more fragmented
with much work for the strings. Eventually the crescendos and
cello figuration return to bring back the atmosphere of the
beginning. A very well-thought-out work even if not meant originally
for the concert hall.
Tampere Philahamonic recently celebrated their seventy-fifth
birthday and have been building a reputation as one of finest
Nordic orchestras. Their playing here is very appropriate for
Salmenhaara, not just from the viewpoint of nationality, but
because they and their laureate conductor Eri Klas value clarity
and fineness of timbre above all other considerations. They
are also attentive to the subtle differentiations of mood inherent
in all these works.
Tampere Philharmonic has long recorded for Ondine and the value
of this connection is demonstrated by a clarity of sound that
matches that of the orchestral playing. It is to be hoped that
this will not be the last Salmenhaara recording from these performers.