Santeri SIIMES (b. 1981)
Toccata (2003) [3:45]
Organ Symphony No. 10 (2003) [28:48]
Complainte (2004) [5:09]
Organ Symphony No. 11 (2005) [35:26]
Santeri Siimes (organ)
rec. March 2010, Kallio Church, Helsinki, Finland
Link to the disc at Fuga’s Web Shop: http://www.fuga.fi/detail.php?id=6419369092986
Several of the finest organ recordings of recent years have come from Finland, the result of a remarkable collaboration between Finnish organist Kalevi Kiviniemi and tonmeister Mika Koivusalo. Regular readers will know how I have championed these discs, as much for their technical excellence as their unfailing musicality. These recordings are only available from Fuga in Helsinki, whose logo also graces this new CD of music written – and played – by Santeri Siimes. At the heart of this recording is the Cavaillé-Coll-inspired organ of Kallio Church, an instrument Siimes has played since the tender age of 12.
The Gallic theme extends to the CD cover and liner-notes, where French comes first. But then this composer is much influenced by the likes of César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor, who wrote specifically for the new, more symphonic, Cavaillé-Colls of the day. Not only that, Siimes has played at Notre-Dame de Paris and was part of Naji Hakim’s organ master-class in 1999, all of which points to a real affinity for this great French tradition. And while that might hint at clumsy pastiche, it soon becomes clear that Siimes has a strong, distinctive voice of his own, his playing as assured as his writing.
The Kallio organ, built by Åkerman & Lund in 1995, is beautifully presented in the opening Toccata. By definition, such pieces should be flamboyant – this one certainly has its moments – but warmth and weight seem to be the watchwords here. The swirling pedals are well caught by engineer/producer Petri Kaipiainen and his team, the deep, rolling bass unclouded by distracting echoes. As for the music itself, it’s deftly constructed and played with what I can best describe as restrained virtuosity. Paradoxical as that may seem, it’s about the performers projecting their personality without getting in the way of the music, even when it’s a showpiece. It’s a rare attribute, and one that applies to compatriot Kalevi Kiviniemi and the German organist Hans-Eberhard Roß, whose Franck recordings for Audite are very special indeed – review.
The first of the two organ symphonies is in five parts, beginning with a rather grave Moderato maestoso. Above that glorious bass hangs a luminous treble line, the music building to a thrilling close. At times I was reminded of Sibelius, whose monumental œuvre for organ can be heard on another fine disc from Fuga – review. But it’s the meditative moments – the final bars, for instance – that are most impressive, as serene as anything Franck ever wrote. And it’s Franck who comes to mind in the engaging Andante, extended sections of which lie in the organ’s mid and upper reaches. There’s much to savour here, the fullness, clarity and colour of this great instrument very well conveyed.
The Scherzo has a real spring in its step, Siimes’ nimble footwork underpinning a shimmer of sound above. It’s a beguiling synthesis of bounce and gurgle, the Méditation reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen at his most rapt and contemplative. Indeed, there’s something of the church window here, each coloured pane glowing with a lovely, sun-sent radiance. It’s verges on the hypnotic, the stillness shattered by the unmistakable Cavaillé-Coll-like bellow of the Finale. All very different from the darker, more sustained sounds of Complainte, the organ’s rich, rounded tone exploited to the full in Siimes’ score. And despite the work’s rather static character there are no longueurs to speak of.
Organ Symphony No. 11 is perhaps the most Franckian, kicking off with an imposing Introduction and allegro. Widor springs to mind as well, but then Siimes is apt to add an unexpected twist of harmony or rhythm that makes this music sound more than merely derivative. As an aside, I did wonder whether the recording focuses too much on the admittedly impressive middle and lower registers of this organ at the expense of the upper ones. True, that may have more to do with the score than the balance, but there are times when I wished for a distinct – and distinctive – treble sound. A minor caveat, I agree; at least we’re spared the merciless jangle that spoils all too many organ recordings.
Franck returns in the lightly sprung rhythms of the Andantino; here the organ’s pellucid upper reaches are much more prominent, a welcome counterbalance to the ubiquitous pedals. The Scherzo is less agile, but then that seems to be the intention; the awkward, galumphing bass is probably the closest we get to humour in this work, which ends with a lovely, luminous Cantilène and fiery Finale. In the latter the beast is unleashed, but even here Siimes maintains a focus, a degree of control, that stops the music sliding into empty showmanship. It’s a vast, gaudy piece which, thanks to a judicious recording, shows no sign of stress or strain. And while it may not have the startling tangibility of a Koivusalo-engineered SACD, this is still a very satisfactory recording.
Siimes has managed a sleight of hand with these scores; while paying homage to the French organist-composers of the 19th century he has also managed to give the music a character all of its own. This music easy to listen to – in the best, most positive sense – and I look forward to hearing more of Siimes’ work when it appears on disc. Until then, this is a recital that’s fully deserving of your time and hard-earned shekels.
A recital that’s fully deserving of your time and hard-earned shekels.