Arctic Hysteria
Atso ALMILA (b. 1953) Wind Quintet II Arctic Hysteria (2006) [19:53]
Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (1944 – 2008) The Good Samaritan Op.141 (2007) [9:49]; Quintet No.2 for Winds Op.22 (1975) [16:23]
Joonas KOKKONEN (1921 – 1996) Wind Quintet (1973) [10:56]
Arktinen Hysteria Wind Quintet
rec. The Sello Hall, 20-22 February 2009
ALBA ABCD 307 [57:31]

First of all do not be put off by the generic title, the subtitle of Almila’s Second Wind Quintet or by the name of the performing ensemble. There is nothing hysterical here, be it in the music or in the actual playing. On the contrary, what we have is a happily varied programme of Finnish works for wind quintet of which the Kokkonen is by far the best known piece.

I must admit (again!) that Almila’s name and music are completely new to me. Browsing through his list of works available on the Finnish Music Information Centre’s website shows that he has a huge and varied catalogue to his credit. His Second Wind Quintet Arctic Hysteria is in fact a kind of suite comprising six character pieces. The meditative and melancholy first movement New Thousand and Six seems to allude to “a deeply tragic event” about which we are not told anything at all. The next movement Neither and Nor is a brief Scherzo. This is followed by a rather dark-hued movement Name of the Blame with clear allusions to the Dies Irae and some disturbing or ambiguous elements. The next movement is a fairly simple and quite beautiful lullaby. The fifth movement, too, is another rather straightforward piece of great delicacy. The final movement Arctic Hysteria opens with an arresting fanfare launching what I could best describe as a surreal kaleidoscope in which a marching tune clashes with shadowed hints of The Internationale and a Finnish folk tune. The movement and the whole work end unresolved. What comes clearly through here is the superbly crafted and effective writing for winds.

The late Pehr Henrik Nordgren seems to be a sort of house composer since Alba has already released a number of discs entirely devoted to his music, most of which I have reviewed here ALBA ABCD288; ALBA ABCD269; ALBA ABCD294; ALBA ABCD308) He composed two wind quintets (Op.11 Three Enticements – 1970 and Op.22 recorded here) as well as The Good Samaritan Op.141. Incidentally, the notes about the Arctic Hysteria Wind Quintet mention a third wind quintet that I have not been able to identify, so that remark might actually be about The Good Samaritan Op.141.) Nordgren’s The Good Samaritan is a miniature tone poem. It opens calmly, hymn-like before leading into the rather fierce central section describing how the traveller was beaten by the robbers and ignored by the lofty priest and the Levite and eventually rescued by the despised Samaritan. The piece ends calmly as it began with a peaceful benediction. The Wind Quintet No.2 Op.22 was composed after the composer’s return from Japan. It is in three movements, the first of which displays some minimalism, which was then new in Nordgren’s music, but the music unfolds freely, with lively rhythms and colourful textures. The second movement might well be the work’s slow movement with a brief, animated central section. The music is characterised by mildly dissonant harmonies. The third movement opens with a long solo played by the alto flute alluding to the Japanese shakuhachi, later joined by soft humming from the other players imbuing the music with a slight oriental colour. The music then becomes more animated and, at times, allows for a short cadenza for each instrument. A brief, varied restatement of the opening leads into the peaceful, dreamy coda.

As already mentioned Kokkonen’s compact Wind Quintet is the best known work here. It was composed when the composer was at work on his opera The Last Temptations, and the wind quintet served as a workshop in which the composer tried out various ideas that were later more fully developed in the opera. This is a typical Kokkonen work in which not a single note is wasted.

So, in short, this is a varied programme of worthy pieces all superbly played and well recorded. The only complaint that I might voice again is about the rather short playing time that might have allowed the inclusion of Nordgren’s first wind quintet. This notwithstanding, what we have here is a very fine release up to Alba’s best standards.

Hubert Culot

A varied programme of fine works in excellent performances and recording,