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Iiro RANTALA (b. 1970)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G sharp major and A flat (2002) [38:15]
Astorale for Piano Solo [7:59]
Tangonator for Violin and Piano [5:01]
Final Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra [5:25]
Iiro Rantala (piano)
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jaakko Kuusisto
rec. Tapiola Hall, Espoo, May 2005. DDD
ONDINE ODE 1071-2 [57:00]

 

Recently, a commentator pointed out that the vast majority of complaints referring to the loud grunts of female tennis players came from English viewers. As an English (re)viewer, I may be being oversensitive in pointing out the embarrassment potential for silly titles and tweely humorous programme notes, but having learned the disadvantages of such gestures in the long run I feel duty bound to be boringly pedantic on the subject. Like that tattoo, how will you feel about it in twenty years from now?

I have a feeling that opinion will be sharply divided on the subject of Rantala’s Concerto. There will be those who find it great fun, and others who think that it is very silly indeed. I’m not wholly convinced by the work, but tend to fall into the ‘great fun’ camp, if only because Liro Rantala is a jazz musician by origin, and as such has greater license for not only ‘sleeping on both sides of the blanket’ (as one of my teachers – Roger Steptoe described my own early polystylistic ramblings) but shaking said blanket in every conceivable direction just to see what falls out. ‘Tuning up’ noises have already been used ad nauseam in modern music, and Rantala’s opening is somewhat redundant and irrelevant to the rest of the piece. I think I know what was going on in his mind: ‘Help! Where do I start? Ah, I know…’ and the rest follows from there.

Rantala’s approach is humorous at all times. The title is a reference to Victor Borge, so it could just as easily have been ‘Concerto in four flats’. The music is almost invariably in the thrall of some other composer’s fingerprints. Gershwin and Rachmaninov are clear favourites, film music, jazz or musical lovers will have a field day picking out little influences and inferences. What is not in doubt is the energy and joy with which the piece has been conceived and executed, and Rantala’s own piano playing is a technically bravura tour-de-force.

The other pieces on this disc are Astorale, which may appeal to fans of the late great Michel Petrucciani, although I can hear Michel’s voice; ‘what is your left hand doing?’ The works’ rhapsodic nature extends its duration without enriching its content. Tangonator like Astorale was written for Rantala’s ensemble Tango Kings who flourished in the 1990s, and with the addition of some excellent violin playing from Jaakko Kuusisto has some serious tango flavour and energy.

Liro Rantala is best known internationally as the founder and pianist of Trio Töykeät, and Final Fantasy is an arrangement of one of their core repertoire pieces. Like a Piazzolla composition I can imagine this working well in almost any instrumental combination, and I tip my hat respectfully in Rantala’s direction for coming up with some compellingly composed jazz/tango crossover.

Finland is a unique cultural greenhouse which seems to cultivate seriously talented artists in order to make up for a lack of cheap fresh fruit. I can only say that Liro Rantala has already broken far beyond the borders of his home country and seems determined to take the musical world by the scruff of the neck and kick its reactionary backside until it starts listening to what he has to say. Time will tell whether his true musical voice can extend the borders of jazz beyond the current trend for short-lived crossover projects, but he certainly seems to have made a good start.

If you want a concerto to fill out your P.D.Q. Bach collection then this might be the disc for you. If you are stimulated by excellent piano playing in any context then there is much to be enjoyed here. If you have just finished unpacking your Donaueschinger Musiktage courtesy rider bag, then you might want to think twice – but then, if you really are unpacking your Donaueschinger Musiktage courtesy rider bag you will probably need cheering up more than somewhat. This CD may well be just the ticket.

Dominy Clements

See also review by Rob Barnett

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