An Anthology of Finnish Piano Music - Volume 3
Selim PALMGREN (1878-1951)
Suite op.3 (1898-99) [18:20]
Intermezzo for the left hand (1906) [1:53]
Ernst LINKO (1889-1960)
Suite in the Olden Style, op.1 (1912) [15:29]
Nocturne, op.2 no.3 [4:22]
(24) Preludes, op.6 nos.1-3 (1917) [5:02]
Ilmari HANNIKAINEN (1892-1955)
Variations Fantasques, op.19 (1916/24) [28:19]
Valse Sentimento (1910) [1:41]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 7-8 May 2006. DDD
This is the third of five volumes in the series by Finnish label FinnConcert (or FC-Records) entitled 'An Anthology of Finnish Piano Music', all performed by Finnish soloist Jouni Somero. The first volume was released in 2004 (FCRCD-9711) and the last in 2008 (FCRCD-9722). All are widely available on the internet.
In Finland no piano sonata tradition emerged in the 19th century in the way it did in many European countries. Composers like Yrjö Kilpinen provided the odd exception. The focus instead was on short pieces and suites, as the five volumes in this series testify. Where Volume 2 was subtitled - rather unhelpfully, as it happens - "Morceaux de Salon", volume 3 showcases, albeit in a very modest way, the music of three of Finland's leading composer-pianists of the early 20th century.
Essentially there are three complete or non-trivial works in Somero's recital: Selim Palmgren's Suite in five contrasting movements, unexceptional musically but Schumannesquely warm and attractive; the first recording of Ernst Linko's opus 1, his nostalgic faux-Baroque-cum-Classical Suite in the Olden Style; and Ilmari Hannikainen's Variations Fantasques. All of these, plus most of the encore pieces dotted about the programme, are the works of composers still in their twenties, and the generation following Sibelius. Consequently they are characterised by a freshness of spirit and an absence of regret or pessimism. This, combined with their harmonious idiom - very much in the mould of Rachmaninov, Grieg and Liszt - makes for a pleasant hour's worth of unpretentious listening.
Volume 2 concluded with a short piece by Ilmari Hannikainen, Conversation op.11/3, and his oddly-titled Valse Sentimento cutely does the same for volume 3. It is immediately preceded by his Variations Fantasques op.19, by far the stand-out work in Somero's recital, not just for its length - nearly half the programme - but for its staggering wealth of ideas, worthy of Liszt or Alkan. Hannikainen, older brother of the celebrated Sibelius conductor Hauno, was a pupil of Alfred Cortot; what a pleasure it would have been to hear Cortot play these Variations. Jouni Somero is not Cortot, but this is the kind of vigorous music he revels in. According to FinnConcert, Somero has given more than 2,400 concerts or recitals all over the world, and has made more than sixty recordings, from Bach to Bortkiewicz. There’s an emphasis on Romantic repertoire that makes him very well versed in the particular demands of the type of music in this recital.
Recording quality is good. FinnConcert are never going to win prizes for their CD booklets, this one least of all. After the tree and bit of shed of volume 2, the cover photo of this disc - a pool of water and a few rocks - is hardly more Finnish or artistic. The track listing layout is untidy and inconsistent, a fact the fancy font cannot alter. Somero provided some interesting, if brief notes on the composers in volume 2. He does so again here, but this time only in Finnish; it was evidently the translator's day off. The English-only reader must make do with remarks so cursory, not even mentioning the pieces, they might as well not be there. Somero's own biographical note, on the other hand, seems to be identical in every CD he appears on, and in this regard the booklet is no different.
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A freshness of spirit and absence of regret or pessimism. A pleasant hour's worth of unpretentious listening.