Aarre MERIKANTO (1893-1958)
Symphony No. 1 in B minor Op. 5 (1914-1916) [47:35]
Symphony No. 3 (1952-1953) [22:05]
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Petri Sakari
rec. Turku Concert Hall, 7-10 March 2010. Hybrid SACD. Reviewed CD layer
world première recordings
ALBA ABCD 336 [70:17]
Aarre Merikanto died one year after the death of his internationally acclaimed countryman, Jean Sibelius. Unlike Sibelius, Merikanto kept writing throughout his life; indeed the Third Symphony dates from just five years before his death. He was a pupil of another symphonist, Erkki Melartin and, in Leipzig, of a determined non-symphonist, Max Reger.
There are only three symphonies though he wrote at least four violin concertos - the last from 1954 - and three piano concertos, the last of which dates from 1955. There are also two notable pieces for choir and orchestra - Tuhma and Genesis - each from 1956.
The First Symphony is a charismatic blend of the nationalist romantic writing of the stripe to be heard in Sibelius 2. It’s pretty much contemporaneous with Madetoja’s Second Symphony and again the language of the Merikanto has some kinship with the Madetoja. There’s a skittish scherzo (II) and an Andante, which has an amorous early Sibelian theme with a touch of Antar thrown into the DNA pool. The finale is all zest and goose pimples with that aureate Madetoja-like romantic glow.

The Symphony No. 3 is shorter and was first known as Fantasia for Orchestra from 1923. Was there something in the air, I wonder, as Sibelius's last completed symphony was initially known as Fantasia symphonica? Merikanto’s Fantasia morphed, in the 1950s, into the work now recorded. The first movement is full of interest. There’s elfin, skipping woodwind, a long-limbed romantic melody and little troika rhythmic cells. Merikanto also seems to draw on the song of wood-birds but spun with Stravinskian accents from the Uuno Klami of the Kalevala Suite. The long Sibelian melody of the middle movement is deep of breath and epic in its span. There are also yet more avian wood notes. The finale roisters along with great momentum. It’s buoyed up by a bouncing folksy melody. This delightful compact work must have seemed out of its time in the 1950s but is perfectly pleasing now. It will satisfy listeners who like their 1930s Hanson, 1940s Piston (Symphonies 2 and 3) or Randall Thompson (Symphonies 1 and 2).
The indispensable notes are by Jouni Kaipainen.
This music will please those who like their Madetoja and Melartin. Sibelius cast a long and suffocating shadow over the music of his fellow Finns. This disc shows that another of them wrote accessible and confidently expressive music in a style benevolently influenced by the man who cast the shadow. Roll on a recording of Merikanto’s other orchestral music, including the concertos.
Rob Barnett
Will please those who like their Madetoja and Melartin.