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Matti Salminen - Elämäni lauluja (A Finnish Songbook)
Oskar MERIKANTO (1868 – 1924)
1. Soi vienosti murheeni soitto (Play Softly, thou Tune of My Mourning) [2:12]
2. Merellä (At Sea) [5:42]
3. Vallinkorvan laulu (The Vallinkorva Song) [3:33]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
4. Souda, souda sibisorsa (Swim, Duck, Swim) [1:18]
5. Lastu lainehilla (Driftwood) [1:11]
6. Ristilukki (The Song of the Cross-spider) [4:14]
Leevi MADETOJA (1887 – 1947)
7. Yrtit tummat (Dark-hued leaves) [3:16]
8. Itkisit joskus illoin (Sometimes weeping in the evening) [2:52]
Yrjö KILPINEN (1892 – 1959)
9. Kesäyö (Summer night) [2:16]
10. Vanha kirkko Op. 54 No. 1 (The Old Church) [3:08]
11. Rannalta I (On the Shore I) [3:35]
Martti TURUNEN (1902 – 1979)
12. Sunnuntai (Sunday) [3:29]
Vilho LUOLAJAN-MIKKOLA (1911 – 2005)
13. Häätanhu (Wedding Dance) [2:48]
Toivo KUULA (1883 – 1918)
14. Tuijotin tulehen kauan Op. 12 No. 2 (Long gazed I into the fire) [5:51]
15. Kesäyö lirkkomaalla Op. 6 No. 1 (Summer Night in the Churchyard) [3:04]
16. (Night) [2:40]
Trad.
17. Tällaaselle poijalle (For a boy like this) [1:37]
18. Tuuli se taivutti koivun larvan (The wind bent down) [2:51]
19. Niin kauan mina tramppaan (I’ll walk around this here village) [1:09]
Matti Salminen (bass)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Finlandia Hall, February 2008. Tracks 2, 4-6 recorded live
Sung texts and English translations enclosed.
ONDINE ODE11352 [58:27]

 

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Matti Salminen, now in his mid-sixties, has had an uncommonly successful and long career. His first appearance on Finnish TV took place as early as 1957, when aged twelve, he sang a popular schlager. In his teens he had a group singing jazzy music in four parts with a band. But when he was twenty he auditioned for the chorus of the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki. His breakthrough as a soloist came in 1969, singing Philip in Don Carlos. His international debut came in Bayreuth in 1976. He remains one of the leading basses with a wide repertoire. He is a monumental Wagnerian with a powerful thundering voice but he is also a fine character actor. I especially recall his Philip II in a Don Carlos at the Finnish National Opera some years ago.

In many of the songs on this disc he is also required to scale down to more intimate proportions. This he does to often ravishing effect. It seems however that he has to work harder today to manage this transition and he occasionally has to sacrifice legato to achieve the nuances he wants. This was noticeable in the first song, Merikanto’s beautiful Soi vienosti murheeni soitto. Elsewhere his legato singing is exemplary (try Kilpinen’s Kesäyö), and the more dramatic songs are invested with all his histrionic powers.

The programme gives a fine overview of the riches of the Finnish song literature. To many non-Nordic readers Sibelius may be the only really familiar composer, but Madetoja, Kilpinen and Kuula are certainly among the finest song composers anywhere. They are well worth getting acquainted with. Oskar Merikanto wrote a great number of melodically appealing songs and also attractive romantic piano music. The only composer here I hadn’t encountered before was Martti Turunen. His Sunnuntai is a beautiful idyllic song with a melody that really sticks. Vilho Luolajan-Mikkola’s Häätanhu (Wedding Dance) – also recorded with orchestra by Salminen’s bass colleague Jaakko Ryhänen  (Finlandia 0630-16885-2) – is surprisingly gloomy but the first line of Yrjö Jylhä’s poem explains why: ‘Now joy is yours, but sorrow mine’. Generally speaking there is a melancholy atmosphere to many of the songs, which might be explained by the Finnish disposition at large – or the northernmost part of Europe in general. There is no denying the beauty of the songs however and there is some contrasting music. One is the rather well-known Merellä (At Sea) by Merikanto (tr. 2). It is stormy and dramatic and this is reinforced by Kalevi Olli’s grandiloquent orchestral arrangement. This is certainly music that suits Salminen to perfection. On this recording there is a contrasting mid-section in ¾ time that I hadn’t heard before. The text here introduces a love-story set in relief to ‘the sea, its bosom heaving’.

The three Sibelius songs are well known and they are interesting also through the arrangements. Souda, souda sinisorsa is performed in an arrangement by the composer’s son-in-law Jussi Jalas, once music director of the Finnish National Opera. Lastu lainehilla was arranged by the great Finnish bass Kim Borg. Ristilukki (The Song of the Cross-spider) was written with orchestra in the first place as part of the incidental music for Adolf Paul’s play King Christian II. All three songs are superbly sung.

Leevi Madetoja is probably best known for his opera The Ostrobothnians, which incidentally will be performed at the Finnish National Opera this spring – I am due to review it on 14 March. He also wrote three fine symphonies and other orchestral works and his songs are wonderful. Yrjö Kilpinen wrote six piano sonatas and some chamber music works but first and foremost he was one of the greatest song composers of the 20th century. With 790 compositions in the genre he even outdoes Schubert. During the 1930s and 1940s he was regarded as the most important Finnish composer, next to Sibelius. Some of his songs were recorded by Gerhard Hüsch in a society edition for HMV. Kilpinen has a very distinctive personal character and these songs are well worth exploration. Toivo Kuula’s life was cut short when he was only 35. He was shot – accidentally or not – during a row in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War in 1918. Many of his songs are in a minor key and they are often melancholy – as the three songs included here. The three traditional songs, arranged by Kalevi Olli, that conclude the disc, are more outward. Tällaaselle poijalle is a lively march, Tuuli se taivutti koivun larvan is dramatic and Niin kauan mina tramppaan is jolly and positive.

John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra accompany with great finesse. The arrangements are generally attractive and the recorded sound excellent. Admirers of Matti Salminen need not hesitate and those with little knowledge of the Finnish treasury of songs will find a lot here to inspire further listening. I have already mentioned the Ryhänen disc with partly overlapping material. On Finlandia 1576-50024-2 Jorma Hynninen sings 18 songs by Kilpinen and 9 by Kuula. Sixteen songs by Kuula and Madetoja’s Syksy-surja Op. 68 are on a Finnish Naxos disc (8.554404FIN) sung by the dramatic soprano Kirsi Tiihonen. On Ondine there is a complete edition of Madetoja’s songs. The first volume (ODE 996-2) is sung by Gabriel Suovanen. The second volume, which I haven’t heard, is sung by Helena Juntunen (ODE 995-2). Finally Jorma Hynninen sings 32 of Oskar Merikanto’s most beautiful songs (Finlandia 1576-50021-2).

There are, in other words, riches aplenty but do start with Salminen’s disc.

Göran Forsling 

 




 


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