Musica Fennica
Robert KAJANUS (1856 - 1933)
Suite ancienne in F major (1931) [15:06]
Berceuse (1896, arr. 1907) [3:04]
Lauri SAIKKOLA (1906 - 1995)
Tripartita (1984) [12:48]
Musica per archi (1950) [11:33]
Armas LAUNIS (1884 - 1959)
Suite nordique pour violon et cordes (1949-55)
St. Michel Strings/Erkki Palola (violin, leader)
rec. Martti Talvela Hall, Mikaili, Mikkeli, 20-24 August 2007
ALBA ABCD274 [56:19]

Until quite recently Robert Kajanus reputation rested on his work as a conductor. He conducted a number of works by Sibelius and even recorded some of the Finnish master’s symphonies (see review). Few of us, however, know him as a composer. Rob Barnett has reviewed a BIS disc entirely devoted to Kajanus’ music (BIS-CD-1223) that sheds some light on his achievement as a composer. The release under review includes some more of Kajanus’s music in the form of his Suite ancienne in F major for strings and his short Berceuse. The Berceuse is the earliest work here. It is the third movement, The Orphan’s Lullaby, of a suite composed as far back as 1896 arranged for violin and strings by the composer in 1907. Interestingly enough there also exists a choral arrangement of it with words by Kasimir Leino. The music has thus a melancholy ring attuned to the original’s title. As might be expected, the Suite ancienne in F major is a somewhat nostalgic piece looking back at the “good old days”. It quite often echoes Grieg, Elgar and Tchaikovsky to give an idea of what the music actually sounds like. It is quite attractive and enjoyable if not particularly memorable.

Lauri Saikkola’s name and music are completely new to me. It turns out that he was a fairly prolific composer with three operas, ten symphonies and twelve sinfoniettas to his credit. The two works recorded here were composed some thirty years apart, but Saikkola’s idiom does not display any great change. The Musica per archi is in three concise movements displaying elegant Neo-classicism whereas the music of the later Tripartita - while being on the whole quite similar to that of the earlier work - is at times rather more tense and stringent. Judging from these two works I would certainly like to hear more of Saikkola’s orchestral music.

Armas Launis is generally better- known as an opera composer, but his output also includes some orchestral pieces, chamber and vocal music as well as film scores. In 1930 he took up residence in Nice and it is there that he composed his Suite nordique pour violon et cordes. This, too, is a somewhat nostalgic work in which the composer seems to look back at his youth and earlier years spent in collecting folk-songs. Curiously enough the music does not seem to quote, let alone allude to folk music. This is yet another attractive work that is well worth more than the occasional hearing.

None of these works can be regarded as an imperishable masterpiece. However, each is well worth hearing, the pieces by Saikkola particularly so. These attractive essays get affectionate readings by the St Michel Strings who obviously enjoy the music and play it for what it is worth. All in all, this is a lovely disc.

Hubert Culot