Erkki SALMENHAARA (1941-2002)
Piano Chamber Music
Violin Sonata (1982) [15:46]
Cello Sonata no.1 (1960/1969) [13:40]
Trois Scènes de Nuit, for violin and piano (1970) [18:58]
Cello Sonata no.2 (1982-83) [18:06]
Jouni Somero (piano); Raymond Cox (violin); Laura Bucht (cello)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 25 April, 23 August 2009. DDD

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 (review 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 favourite pets.

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?

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see also review by Rob Barnett

Takes us back to the heady days of late-Romanticism. Captivating stuff.