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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
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CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

Robert KAJANUS (1856-1933)
Finnish Rhapsody No. 1 Op. 5 (1881) [9:26]
Kullervo's Funeral March Op. 3 (1880) [14:43]
Sinfonietta in B flat major Op. 16 (1915) [25:17]
Aino - symphonic poem for male chorus and orchestra (1885 rev. c.1916) [14:26]
Helsinki University Choir/Matti Hyökki
Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä
rec. Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland, 28-31 May 2002; 14 May 2001 (). DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1223 [65:21]
Experience Classicsonline

Think Finland, think Sibelius. Think Kajanus, think conductor.

As we can see from this CD, Kajanus's reputation can rest on more than the fact that he conducted Symphonies 1, 2, 3 and 5 for the 1930s Sibelius Society project - why not the others, I wonder. Here is a CD's worth of his music. The only pity is that space was not made for the Finnish Rhapsody No. 2. As it is, this collection includes the first commercial recordings of his music.

He has not made much of an impact internationally although within Finland there have been radio orchestra broadcasts of Aino and the two rhapsodies conducted by Segerstam, Berglund and Cronvall. It fell to the wonderfully enterprising Leslie Head to conduct the UK premiere of Aino at St Johns Smith Square, London on 20 February 1975 - a very unusual event. Such a pity that we no longer hear from this fine conductor.

To my knowledge this Bis CD is the first all-Kajanus CD. In fact I am hard put to think of any previous Kajanus recordings. Perhaps there have been recordings issued in Finland - let me know.

The confident Kajanus emerged into a still fairly primitive musical world in the Finland of the 1860s and 1870s. He founded the orchestra that was to become the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in competition with Martin Wegelius. He studied in Leipzig and was a drinking friend of Sibelius's (perhaps a Warlock to Sibelius’s Moeran).

He studied with Svendsen in Paris in 1879-80. Svendsen encouraged him to introduce Finnish folksongs into the First Rhapsody, an inoffensively tuneful work included here. It has a rather lovely, and in this recording tenderly played, hymn-like section at 5.10. It includes the folksong I cannot forget you - which sounds a little like Shenandoah. The work has the innocent playfulness of the music of Dvořák and Smetana. It ends in a Lisztian rumpus.

The Kalevala was a significant source of inspiration to Finnish composers. Sibelius used it extensively but before him Filip von Schantz had written a Kullervo overture in 1860. Madetoja and Sallinen were to explore the Kullervo story in music

The Kajanus Kullervo's Funeral March, with its tragic mien, shows the influence of Wagner as well as Berlioz, Mahler (Symphony No. 1) and Tchaikovsky. The beetling angry cortège broods, thunders and flashes. There is also some tenderness at 2.30 on the entry of the Finnish folk tune My poor mother. The slender vitreous writing for the strings foreshadows Sibelius.

We then leave Kajanus's Leipzig days far behind and move to Helsinki. The four movement Sinfonietta was dedicated to Sibelius and both string and wind writing includes characteristic Sibelian touches. These look back towards the Second Symphony; not towards the contemporaneous Fifth. The Intermezzo echoes some of Sibelius's lighter music including also the bucolic suites of Ludolf Nielsen. The Molto adagio third movement is of quite another order. This is extremely touching and here most sensitively carried off by Vänskä and the Lahti Orchestra. This movement should feature in anthologies in its own right. The final allegro con fuoco has some startlingly vivid string writing even if the wind contribution recalls the Apprentices music from Meistersinger.

Lastly comes the Aino poem which includes a brief part for male chorus singing words from ‘The Kalevala’. Once again Wagner is a clear influence whether in references to brooding funereal music or to Meistersinger. At 2.10 the acceleration sounds Brucknerian, rising to a slow-striding Wagnerian grandeur perhaps mixed with elements from the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. It could easily be ranked alongside the 'second rank' Tchaikovsky tone poems such as Fatum and Hamlet and with Liszt works such as Hunnenschlacht, Ce qu'on entends sur la montagne and From the Cradle to the Grave. There is some gloriously raw brass writing - regal and courageous. The last five minutes usher in the warming choral part entering with gentle affirmation like a benediction. The great arching theme is carried high and in victory by choir and orchestra. A touch of the grand tune from Finlandia here.

Good informative notes by Andrew Barnett. The words of the Aino symphony are printed in Finnish and in English translation.

Wagnerian late romanticism with the subtlest Sibelian flavour ... all extremely well done.

Rob Barnett




















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