Erkki SALMENHAARA (1941-2002)

Piano Chamber Music
Violin Sonata (1982) [15:46]
Cello Sonata No. 1 (1960-69) [13:40]
Trois Scènes de Nuit for violin and piano (1970) [18:58]
Cello Sonata No. 2 (1982) [18:06]
Jouni Somero (piano); Raymond Cox (violin); Laura Bucht (cello)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finalnd, 25 Apr, 23 Aug 2009. DDD

Finnish composer, writer and administrator Erkki Salmenhaara studied with Kokkonen and Ligeti. His expressive musical style moved from the dissonant discontinuity of the 1960s’ avant-garde to a prodigal’s return to wholehearted post-modern lyricism in the 1970s and later. He has been abstemiously recorded with one orchestral disc from Ondine prominent in a very thinly populated landscape. I have never heard them but of his five unrecorded symphonies the Second (1963, rev. 1966) is said to lose its “individual melodic lines … in a complex polyphonic weft”. The Third (1963-64) is described in one of the obituaries as deploying “cluster-chords in the winds and unstable, chromatic melodic lines in the strings … set in a static framework where colour and texture are of more interest than motivic evolution.” The First Symphony was written in 1962. The Fourth Symphony Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (1972 – premiered by the Finnish RSO conducted by Ulf Söderblom) and the Fifth Isle of Bliss (1989) are, it seems, in a more jewelled and lyrical style. I am ready to draw parallels with Valentin Silvestrov and his glowingly lapidary Fifth Symphony. That Ondine CD contains a selection of earlier scores including La fille en mini-jupe (1967), the "unsymphonic poem" Suomi-Finland (1966) and the reportedly impressionistic tone poem Le bateau ivre. There are also concertos for organ (1978), horn (1973), two violins (1980) and cello (1983-87). The four piano sonatas are joined by a string quartet. His single most extended work is the three-act opera The Portuguese Woman (1972). His writings number a four-volume history of Finnish music (1995-96), biographies of Madetoja and Sibelius and monographs on Sibelius's Tapiola and Violin Concerto and on Brahms’ symphonies.
The three movement Violin Sonata is direct out of the central European lyrical vein – veering fervently between Bartók and Rózsa. Raymond Cox’s violin has a hoarse and passionate vulnerability which is intensified by the centred security of Soumero’s playing. After a touching Adagio the final Allegro is carefree with a touch of Schumann about it. The contrast with the 1960s Cello Sonata No. 1’s dissonance and gloomy-nervy waywardness is radical. The writing often feels like an avant-garde pass at a Bach Chaconne. The Trois Scènes de Nuit are for violin and piano. Again we have a massive u-turn from the Cello Sonata No. 1. These three pieces are atmospheric - late-19th century romantic at times but with the romance worn with a light yet sour veil. I mentioned Schumann earlier. He is also something of a presence in the curvaceous Andante of the Second Cello Sonata. The Sonata starts with a glinting carillon from the piano and ideas that, with some fine tuning, would be at home in the context of a Sonata by Mendelssohn or Ries. The finale has some jaggedly confrontational writing that is Beethovenian as well as some carefree ideas that are a hair’s-breadth from vaudeville.
There we are then: Salmenhaara can in stylistic terms be loosely and probably sloppily grouped with other retrospectives such as Simpson and Rochberg in their quartets and Jeverud and Richard Flury (on Gallo) in their piano writing.
The liner notes are in Finnish and English.
A fascinating collection that will have you hoping for CDs of the last two symphonies, the string quartet and the horn and cello concertos.

Rob Barnett
A fascinating collection that will have you hoping for CDs of the last two symphonies, the string quartet and the horn and cello concertos.