Toivo KUULA (1883-1918)
Songs and Orchestral Music
Merenkylpijäneidot, Op.12 (1909 orch 1910) (‘The Sea-bathing Nymphs’) [7:47]
South Ostrobothnian Suite, No.2, Op.20 (1912-13) [20:43]
Four Songs with orchestra [12:24]
Concert Suite: Orjan Poika, Op.14b (1912) (‘Son of a Slave’) [11:00]
Impi Ja Pajarin Poika, Op.18 (1911 orch 1912) (‘The Maiden and the Son of a Boyar’) SG [12:10]
Prelude and Fugue, Op.10 (1909) [7:49]
Susan Gritton (soprano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Brabbins
rec. Air Studios, Hampstead, London, 24-26 January 2011

You might have thought that Bis or Ondine would have been first off the blocks with a collection of the orchestral music of Finnish composer Toivo Kuula. As it is, deep respect and healthy sales should greet Dutton in branching out in this direction as well as towards France and Benjamin Godard. Perhaps it took the catharsis and expiation offered by Bis's now complete Sibelius Edition to offer the oxygen for a project such as this. Pingoud, Raitio and Melartin have hardly been ignored but perhaps we will now see yet more of their music appearing and in multiple performances.

The Sea Bathing Nymphs – the same as Sibelius’s Oceanides? - is a grandly luxurious scena in the manner of Richard Strauss and Sibelius's Luonnotar. It lacks the dissentient originality of the Sibelius but is striking all the same. The words are sung by Susan Gritton around writing that is magically fine and delicately spun with occasional eruptive climaxes worthy of Schulhoff, Schreker or Zemlinsky. Summer Evening has a hymn-like simplicity - like a national favourite. Long I stared into the Fire was orchestrated by Aarre Merikanto. It partakes of The Swimmer from Elgar's Sea Pictures and RVW's Stevenson settings. In the Cattle Yard reminded me of the sheep-calling songs spread across Canteloube's Chants d’Auvergne. Then comes a song of great magical ambit, Sailing in the Moonlight. It superbly catches the lunar light playing on barely stirred waters yet is still very passionate in the manner of The Seabathing Nymphs. The Maiden and the Son of a Slave is another silkily spun mercurial song with a volatile and highly demanding vocal part - one can imagine this music being beloved of William Baines - it rather reminds me of his two neglected and unrecorded masterworks Thoughtfdrift and Island of the Fey but with a petrol-soaked fulminant vocal element.

The Son of a Slave (Orjan Poika) I have known for some years from a friend's broadcast tape by Jussi Jalas. It is a romantically impressionist piece in which the canvas is diaphanous and rather Sibelian in a gentle elusive way - lovely music.

The South Ostrobothnian suite No. 2 is in five movements. The music is jaunty-folksy (I III) and eldritch and nature mystic (It Rains in the Forest). The latter is distinctly Sibelian as is the oboe-led Polka of the Orphaned Children, The last movement is challengingly called Daemons lighting up the Will-O'-The-wisp. It too has its Sibelian moments as in the closing pages where this could easily have been from Sibelius's theatre music.

Lastly comes the Prelude and Fugue of 1909, reminiscent at times of Sibelius's Karelia suite. It’s jolly and stormy at first in the manner of Liszt. Then comes a tautly pattering little fugue running to almost six minutes. This might with advantage have been placed before Orjan Poika so the disc could have played out to Kuula's staunchly imaginative romantic strengths rather than a patterned exercise reeking of the academic. Still, this is a most fascinating issue and one that those holding a torch for Scandinavian music will have no choice other than to hear.

The notes by Lewis Foreman and Tommila Tero are all we could hope for. This is a most impressive disc. Glorious.

Rob Barnett

A most impressive disc. Glorious.