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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]



Rantala’s roots are in jazz. He began his piano studies at the Käpylä Music Institute and continued his studies at the Oulunkylä Pop/Jazz Institute and the Jazz Department of the Sibelius Academy. In 1991 he turned his attention to classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music for two years. Rantala is the founder and pianist of Trio Töykeät, Finland's most prominent jazz band. They have performed in more than forty different countries over five continents. Jazz and contemporary rub shoulders in his music, blending, melting and reasserting their identities.

Listening to the 38 minute Piano Concerto Rantala’s open-minded eclecticism is to the fore. It’s rather like listening to Constant Lambert supercharged with the visceral-feral energy in Percy Grainger’s The Warriors. But this is only part of the story. The Concerto links hands with many twentieth century exemplars including Bernstein, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (which Rantala has performed in Finland), Rachmaninov (a little) and Prokofiev (much more). Towards the end of the first movement we even hear things that remind us of Malcolm Arnold whooping it up in his Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril. It’s a veritable collage of a work drawing on popular middle-of-the-road culture with nary a wince or a blush. It’s clearly good fun and if I am left wondering how much of this is due to Rantala and how much to Kuusisto who did the orchestration perhaps the division of creativity doesn’t matter all that much. In the piano solo Astorale as well as in Tangonator (violin and piano) I thought of the sharp and edgy style of those famous Grappelli and Previn collections of the early 1970s - all jazz, Mayerl and Palm Court with the odd surprise thrown in such as the cackling violin in 2:40 in TangonatorFinal Fantasy is a concert-closer played at Trio Töykeät events. It flies along at full tilt with the RPMs close to the engine’s limit and then pauses for a moment’s reflection and a lovely sentimental aside. Oddly enough it had me thinking of the first movement of Walton’s Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra. A pulse-thrilling work with a feel-good kick.

If you go for fanciful, even dissolute adventures in the shadow-land between jazz, popular and classical you will find this irresistible .... and fun.

Rob Barnett


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