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Kai NIEMINEN (b.1953)
Palomar (Flute Concerto) (2001) [22:47]
Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices (Clarinet Concerto) (2002) [25:42]
Vicoli in ombra (Alleys in Twilight) (1995) [10:02]
Patrick Gallois (flute); Mikko Raasakka (clarinet)
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois
rec. May 2006, Laukaa Church, Jyväskylä
NAXOS 8.572061 [58:31]
Experience Classicsonline

Kai Nieminen calls himself a ‘painter in music’ and this triptych of works goes a long way to proving the point.

Palomar is his Flute Concerto, written in 2001, and its pellucid impressions suggest a language of subtle hues and colouration. It’s full of flute and harp exchanges but also sports some traditional sounding, grounding horn harmonies. The orchestration is light and subtle, glittering with the concentration of a sextet in places, and revelling in firefly and crepuscular distinction. It’s a two movement work, the finale of which is called La Notte (Night, Old People and Birds) - which is both charming in itself and an indication of his pluralistic inclinations in general. Here we find loquacious voicings, incessant birdsong in which all nature seems soprano-like to be teeming, luscious and avidly vibrating. Then an achingly beautiful and warmly hued string melody courses romantically through the undergrowth, lovely as a Rota song, before the birdsong, though now less agitated resumes. It’s a fine work, impressionistic, less reliant on Messiaen than you may think from my description - and charming.

The Clarinet Concerto was written the following year, 2002. It’s titled Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices. The writing here is fuller than in the Flute Concerto. Echoing phrases abound as do moments of stasis and, once again - and this is a repeated feature of his writing - rarefied chamber sized clarity. The second movement, The Toilers of the Sea, is in effect an Andante, lyrically spun and irradiated by percussive colour. Lines thin to single voices, before a frantic clarinet outburst erupts, pitch twisting and accompanied by torrid percussion. This is a finely judged work, theatrical but surely shaped, and never off-putting in its vigour.

Finally there is the oldest work, written in 1995: Vicoli in ombra (Alleys in Twilight). A stalking, walking bass motif starts this one and orchestral colours vary from burnished windy strings to more locally vocalised persistent wind writing. There is a real sense of narrative development here, something of which Nieminen is an august exponent. Though the mood darkens somewhat and the work ends quietly it’s not pessimistic.

The performances are terrific. The Flute Concerto was written for Patrick Gallois who both plays and conducts (throughout) Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä. Add to this exemplary sound quality, and you have a contemporary portfolio of approachable colour and incident.

Jonathan Woolf 



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