This is the perfect tonic for all who have been led to believe
that composers stopped writing attractive tuneful music fifty
or even a hundred years ago. Finn Erkki Salmenhaara takes his
audience right back to the heady days of late-Romanticism, or
even, at times, early Romanticism. As the notes suggest, the
deeply retrospective finale of the Violin Sonata calls Beethoven
to mind, but his spirit lurks elsewhere, as indeed does that
of Schumann. The irony is that Salmenhaara's early career was
heavily influenced by the avant-garde, Ligeti in particular.
He employed various experimental techniques in his music before
taking the nostalgic turn encapsulated by these works.
This CD was originally released in 2009, but appears to have
been recently reissued. It is the companion of a two-disc volume
of Salmenhaara's piano music, released by FinnConcert in 2003
and also performed by Finnish pianist Jouni Somero (FCRCD 9707).
FinnConcert - now known as FC-Records - have kept Somero well
occupied for the last decade. Some listeners may be familiar
with his interesting five-CD Anthology of Finnish Piano Music
of final volume) or his unfurling survey of the complete solo
piano music of Sergei Bortkiewicz on eight discs (review
of the excellent volume 5, which has details of all previous
CDs). In all, Somero has made more than sixty recordings across
the musical spectrum. They evince an emphasis on Romantic repertoire
that makes him very well versed, ironically, in the demands
of Salmenhaara's music.
Anyone fond of atmospheric, darkling lyricism, broiling melody
and voluptuous harmonies will find all that in abundance in
the three Sonatas. The First Cello Sonata dates from the 1960s
and is the most modernist of the works, though only in a Shostakovich-like
way. The Second Cello Sonata, written at the same time as the
lovely Violin Sonata, is particularly outstanding: sounding
in the first movement as if seasoned with a bit of Philip Glass.
The finale is a saucy little tribute to Beethoven in more ways
than one. Perhaps the finest of the four works, though, is the
glorious Trois Scènes de Nuit, not by any means frivolous
night music, but a trio of evocative mood pieces of considerable
depth and expression, particularly the rapturous final chaconne.
There are decent performances all round from the three soloists.
Salmenhaara's works are not especially virtuosic, but they certainly
require insight and maturity to bring out their inherent wistfulness
and pathos. These qualities are capably supplied by the experienced
Somero and by the younger Laura Bucht and Raymond Cox, both
based in Finland.
Sound quality is good, although the violin is set back further
than it ought to be. The odd chair creak can be heard here and
there, but is very unlikely to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the
music. FinnConcert's booklets are rarely anything to write home
about, but at least the most basic information is included.
Odd cover photos are a bit of a trademark of theirs; this one
can be accounted for by the fact that Salmenhaara was fond of
cats, as is Somero - both are pictured elsewhere with their
These are not by any means Salmenhaara's complete chamber works,
but a captivating start. Perhaps FC-Records can see their way
to organising a follow-up?
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also review by Rob