Finntastic - Musical Souvenirs from Finland
Jean SIBELIUS Finlandia [2:12]
Jubilate Choir, Astrid Riska
Pehr Henrik NORDGREN Valittanee (the Whole World Will Lament) [4:38]
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
Joonas KOKKONEN Lintujen Tuonela (the Hades of the Birds]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, Monica Groop [3:16]
Jean SIBELIUS Soi Kunniaksi Luojan [May the Hymn of Honour Now Resound] [1:39]
Jubilate Choir/Astrid Riska
Jean SIBELIUS Andantino [3:18]
Brass Partout
Uuno KLAMI Sarja Pienelle Orkesterille [Suite for Small Orchestra] - March Militaire [3:43]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
Jean SIBELIUS Laulu Lemminkäiselle [A Song for Lemminkäinen] [4:16]
Helsinki University Chorus; Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA Pelimannit : [Fiddlers] [6:32]
Kalevi AHO Perhoset (Perhosten Foxtrot Ja Tango) [The Butterflies (The Foxtrot [4:43]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Jean SIBELIUS Romance in F Major [3:14]
Bernhard Henrik CRUSELL Romanze [6:08]
Anu Airas, Pekka Kauppinen
Jean SIBELIUS Three Pieces for Piano op. 1895 [5:23]
Joonas KOKKONEN Sanctus and Benedictus [3:43]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, Soile Isokoski, Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir
Jean SIBELIUS Poco Vivace from Symphony No. 6 [3:30]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Uuno KLAMI Suomenlinna [13:04]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Soile Isokoski (soprano), Monica Groop (mezzo), Walton Grönroos (baritone), Osmo Vänskä (clarinet), Pekka Kauppinen (violin), Anu Airas (viola), Ilkka Pälli (cello), Torleif Thedéen (cello), Folke Gräsbeck (piano); Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir, Jubilate Choir, YL Choir, Brass Partout, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Astrid Riska, Juha Kangas, Ulf Söderblom, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Osmo Vänskä
rec. 1990-2000. Finland. DDD
BIS-CD-1277 [69:52] 

Here we have an almost completely unhackneyed Finnish music sampler drawn from the Bis back catalogue. It's the sort of thing handed out by embassies and at Finnish international conferences. It is certainly a good ambassador for Suomi even if its dominance of soothing music might strike some as too much of a good thing.

There are nine Sibelius tracks out of 21. The first has the Jubilate Choir ringing out the Finlandia chorale as revised by the composer in 1948. Nordgren's The Whole World will lament is an string arrangement of an earnest and soulful South Ostrobothnian chorale. It’s just a shade away from a Hovhaness hymn. Kokkonen's Hades of the Birds is represented by the song In the world of Perfection. This strange waltz tempo scena is sung by Monica Groop. Sibelius and Jubilate returnwith May the Hymn of Honour Now Resound which is graciously curved rather than assertive. Sibelius's Andantino for brass is steadily intoned at first but soon suggests a cafe band dance. The Marche Militaire from Klami’s Suite for Small Orchestra is flighty and vivacious - a cracking piece of light music from 1946. Sibelius's A Song for Lemminkainen is for male choir and orchestra and manages to be both stern and sensitive with a touch of Karelian cheeriness about it. Rautavaara's haunting Fiddler suite for string orchestra is his op. 1. It's in five concise movements and at times sounds like a gently discordant nostalgic Capriol Suite touched with turbo-baroque at one moment and Shostakovich the next. The Foxtrot and Tango of the Butterflies from Aho's Symphony No. 7 Insect Symphony is a rowdy and scatty metropolitan jazz tango - Bernstein in Helsinki. Sibelius's 1915 Romance for cello and piano is a suave and smoochy salon piece written for an undemanding bourgeois mass-market. Just once or twice does one catch a wraith of the Humoresques but that's it. There’s the bonus of lovely sustained tone from Torleif Thedéen. In the same way you can hear Thedéen's intakes of breath so you can hear the mechnical action of Osmo Vänskä's clarinet - yes he is also a clarinettist - in the Romanze from Crusell's Clarinet Quartet No. 1. It's very Mozartean - a poised serenading cantabile. Folke Gräsbeck was the pianist in the Sibelius Romance and he also plays the Three Pieces of 1885 on a somewhat clangy piano. Again these are creatures of the salon though the limping dotty Menuetto is fun. Kokkonen's 1981 Requiem is represented by its Sanctus and Benedictus. The first is powerfully iterative and has the rhapsodic grandeur of vocal Tippett but more melodically lush - even ecstatic. Vänskä reappears for the penultimate track - the Poco vivace from Sibelius's Symphony No. 6. This is part of his fine Sibelius cycle. His reading is irate and muscular. We end with Vänskä and the Lahti orchestra again but this time in Uuno Klami's sparkling folk overture Suomenlinna. It's a cracking piece with some patriotically stirring writing in the outer sections of this substantial item - it would not be surprising if you found yourself thinking of Sibelius's Karelia Suite. In the centre Klami's writing is lusciously Straussian mixed with the Sibelius of the first two symphonies. This is Klami before the stultifyng influence of his Parisian sojourn bit deep into his originality and nationalistic impressionism.

Rob Barnett