OrganOrgan Ė Historical Finnish organ works
Armas MAASALO (1885-1960)
Tema con variazioni, Op. 35 (1936) [7:27]
VäinŲ RAITIO (1891-1945)
Canzonetta (1935) [2:32]
Armas MAASALO (1885-1960)
Sonata in C minor, Op. 5 (1913) [16:51]
John GRANLUND (1888-1962)
Passacaglia (1915) [9:42]
VäinŲ RAITIO (1891-1945)
Legenda, Op. 20 No. 1 (c. 1922-1923) [6:00]
John GRANLUND (1888-1962)
Organ Sonata in B flat minor (1917/1920?)
Ville Urponen (organ)
rec. 4 April, 12 September 2008, St. Martinís Church, Turku, Finland
ALBA RECORDS ABCD 298 [67:19]

In my recent review of Santeri Siimesí CD I commented that some of the best organ recordings now come from Finland. Regular readers will know how taken I am with the hybrid SACDs from the Finnish label Fuga, engineered by Mika Koivusalo. Alba, based in Tampere, is new to me, but paging through the booklet I was delighted to see this is a Koivusalo production as well. Curiously, Alba donít display the SACD logo on the front cover; do they have so little faith in the formatís sonic virtues?

As always, itís the music that counts, and there are no quibbles on that score. The Finnish composers represented arenít very well known, but after listening to this disc I think they ought to be. Tema con variazioni, by the organist-composer Armas Maasalo, has an unassuming grandeur that pretty much defines this disc as a whole. Itís an assured and characterful piece, Urponen drawing some of the most diaphanous sounds from this generous, sweet-toned Kangasala. As expected, the recording is exceptionally full and vivid, with a rock-solid pedal and pure, unfettered treble; but then I wouldnít expect anything less from this multi-talented tonmeister.

As for VäinŲ Raitioís Canzonetta, itís hard to believe the composer described himself as a Modernist. Indeed, thereís a discreet charm to this miniature that may well recall the lighter Franck. Urponen is unerring in matters of registration and scale, always alive to the delicate hues and textures of this piece. Those same qualities are present in his reading of Raitioís Legenda, Op 20/1; in the best Sibelian tradition, this Ďpoem for great organí has a most imposing presence, the recordingís deep, firm bass as thrilling as any Iíve heard on disc. But itís the quiet, reflective passages that are the most telling, dynamics finely calibrated throughout.

For those weary of organ festivals, fireworks and spectaculars this recital should come as a blessed relief. And what a pleasure it is to be introduced to the Maasalo sonata, played with such lightness and grace. The descending pedal figures of the Adagio Ė shades of Franckís gentle G minor Andantino Ė are contrasted with ghostly scales in the organís upper reaches. The instrument has a palpable, airy presence thatís just astonishing, even in a recording with this pedigree; and those who donít have a Super Audio player will be pleased to know it all sounds just as impressive in its Red Book form. The Allegretto (Pastorale) is fleet of foot Ė mischievous, even Ė the final Fugue rather more formal. Even here thereís an engaging simplicity to the writing Ė some might call it lightweight Ė but such is the ease and authority of Urponenís playing that such criticism is easily deflected.

As for organist-teacher John Granlundís Passacaglia, it opens with a restless, Tristan-like theme that yearns for some kind of resolution. Itís a measured but naturally paced performance that builds to a series of broad climaxes, the ur-theme never far away. Now this really is stirring, noble stuff; in terms of scale and presence itís reminiscent of Sibelius, whose úuvre for organ has been recorded by Kalevi Kiviniemi (review). Thatís especially true of the Sonata in B flat minor; yes, thereís a whiff of the pedagogue in this closely argued score, but there are moments of quirkiness and Ė in the aerated Adagio Ė of unexpected loveliness, that I enjoyed immensely. And what better way to end than with a majestic Allegro? This is one of those understated yet impressive pieces that really ought to be more widely programmed.

Speaking of programmes, the music here is well chosen, offering plenty of variety and character. These are quality pieces played Ė and recorded Ė with impeccable taste and sensitivity. Urponen is an organist to watch, and one Iím happy to place alongside fellow Finn Kiviniemi and the German organist Hans-Eberhard Ross; the latterís Franck recordings for Audite are very special indeed.

One of the most satisfying recitals Iíve heard in ages. A mandatory purchase for organ fanciers and discerning audiophiles alike.

Dan Morgan

One of the most satisfying recitals Iíve heard in ages. A mandatory purchase for organ fanciers and discerning audiophiles alike.