Metsän poika (On the Fields of Tapiola)
Toivo KUULA (1883 - 1918) (arr.) and Kimmo HAKOLA (b. 1958) (arr. for orch)
Eteläpohjalaisia kansanlauluja (Twelve South Ostrobothnian Folk Songs) Op. 17b (1908-1909 / 2012) [20:18]
1. Niin kauan minä tramppaan (So long I will tramp) [1:34]
2. Eikä sitä sanaa sanoa saisi (I shouldn’t say the word) [2:07]
3. Huuda hautas pohjasta (Cry from the bottom of your grave) [1:10]
4. Voi niltä tuntia tuhansia (Of those thousand hours) [1:06]
5. Pappani maja on matala (My father’s house is humble) [1:24]
6. Poijat ne kulkee (The boys they roam) [1:45]
7. Tuoltapa näkyy se punanen talo (I spy the little red house) [1:23]
8. Hautalan Heikin kaunihin kesän (Hautalan Heikki must spend all summer) [2:06]
10. Ketolan Jukka (Ketolan Jukka) [2:11]
11. Hae pois vain sormukses (Come fetch your ring) [1:24]
12. Luullahan jotta on lysti olla (Some think I must be enjoying life) [1:51]
Toivo KUULA and Sulho RANTA (1901 - 1960) (arr. for strings)
13. Preludi (Prelude) Op. 16b/1 (1909 / 1930?) [2:19]
14. IntermezzoOp. 16b/2 (1909 / 1930?) [2:58]
Kivi-laulut (Kivi Songs) (2007, arr. for strings 2011) [22:33]
Seven songs to texts by Aleksis Kivi
15. 1. Metsämiehen laulu (The hunter’s song) [3:52]
16. 2. Onnelliset (The happy ones) [3:20]
17. 3. Sunnuntai (Sunday) [4:24]
18. 4. Oravan laulu (The squirrel) [2:35]
19. 5. Unelma (The dream) [2:34]
20. 6. Oli mulla kulta kaunoinen (I had a sweetheart fair) [3:11]
21. 7. Sydämeni laulu (The song of my heart) [2:37]
Toivo KUULA and Pekka HELASVUO (b. 1948) (arr. for strings)
22. Meren virsi (The song of the sea) Op. 11/2 (1909 / 2003) [8:40]
Toivo KUULA and Juho NÄYKKI (b. 1945) (arr. for strings)
23. Häämarssi (Wedding march) Op. 2b/2 (1908 / 2011) [4:52]
Jorma Hynninen (baritone) (1 - 12, 15 - 21)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
rec. Kaustinen Church, 20 - 23 February 2012
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
ALBA ABCD 348 [62:39]
One of my favourite baritones has for many years been Jorma Hynninen. I have had the good luck to hear him in the flesh on a number of occasions. He was a wonderful Posa in Don Carlos at the Finnish National Opera when he was well over sixty. In February 2011 I saw him at the National Opera’s Almi Hall in the title role of Rautavaara’s Aleksis Kivi, an opera that Hynninen commissioned and of which he also sang the title role at the world premiere at Savonlinna in 1997. I suppose that he has a special feeling for that role and his singing and acting was little short of miraculous (see review). He turned seventy a few weeks later and sang like someone half that age. When I was offered the opportunity to review the present disc I readily accepted, in particular since it includes seven songs to texts by Aleksis Kivi.
I’m fully aware that when hearing a singer live there are so many factors that have an influence on the total experience, not least the visual aspect. It has happened more than once that I have been overwhelmed in the concert hall and then, when hearing a recording of that occasion, found a lot of things that were less than good. I marvelled at Joan Sutherland’s Elvira in I puritani at a concert in Stockholm in the late 1980s and was very disappointed at her contemporaneous recording of Anna Bolena. Not so with Hynninen. The voice is still in fine fettle, there is no strain even at the top, the timbre is youthful, the vibrato is perfectly controlled, not a sign of wobble and the tone is fresh with that unmistakable ring up high. What one misses is more of the beautiful pianissimo that has always been one of his hallmarks. Now it is mostly full-throated singing from mezzo-forte and upwards. On the other hand these songs are often straightforward, direct, folksy and without the sophistication of Lieder, in particular the Ostrobothnian folk song settings of Toivo Kuula.
Kuula was commonly regarded as the Finnish composer who seemed to possess the prerequisites to challenge Sibelius, the giant. Alas, he wasn’t granted a long life. In 1918 he was killed during the civil war, not yet 35. Fortunately he was able to create quite a lot that is today incorporated in the Finnish standard repertoire. He was also a pioneer in raising interest in the Finnish folk music treasury that became so important for generations to come. In his case it was the music of Ostrobothnia, his native province; he was born in Vaasa. He travelled in the southern part of the region and brought home 262 songs and 34 instrumental pieces. Some of this material was the basis for Twelve Ostrobothnian Folk Songs recorded here. His first arrangements were quite simple: focus was on the melodies with simple chordal accompaniments by the piano. Later, during his stays in France, Italy and Switzerland, he developed a more elaborate technique, where the piano part became more colourful and illustrative. Kimmo Hakola’s arrangements for string orchestra were, as I understand it, written specifically for this recording and they add further colour to the songs. Tuuli se taivutti koivun larvan (The wind it swayed) is particularly vivid and expressive.
Of the orchestral pieces on this disc the Prelude and Intermezzo were written for organ, roughly at the same time as the songs. Kuula was satisfied with them and wrote in his diary ‘My inspiration is great and does not seem to be running out’. The song of the sea, written in Paris in 1909, was one of seven songs for mixed choir. Compositionally it is also inspired but the wide vocal range made it almost impossible to sing. ‘The shrieking soprano was like a spirit calling in distress and the bass was in danger of being swamped,’ wrote Armi Klemetti, the wife of Heikki Klemetti, who conducted the first performance. A string orchestra has no such limitations and in Pekka Helasvuo’s arrangement this could be a standard work for chamber orchestras. Kuula’s best known composition is no doubt the Wedding March, written in 1908 for the wedding of the sister of his wife-to-be Alma Silventoinen. It was one of three pieces for piano but it is often heard in an orchestral version. The string orchestra arrangement by Juho Näykki may also be made for this recording.
Aleksis Kivi (1834 - 1872) was the first Finnish author of some importance to write in Finnish. Before him Swedish was the universally prevailing literary language in Finland. His novel Seven brothers became a model for later writers in the vernacular but it was heavily criticised by his contemporaries, which may have precipitated the mental disease that eventually lead to his death.
The Kivi Songs were written in 2007 for Jorma Hynninen, who also premiered them the same year in the original version for voice and piano. Later he asked Kimmo Hakola to arrange them for large orchestra and for string orchestra and harp. They are lovely songs, tonal, melodious and rather simple. ‘Like a folk song’ I wrote in my notes about Onnelliset (The happy ones), very Finnish in tone and in 3/4-time. Oravan laulu (The squirrel) is also catchy while Unelma (The dream) is harsher, both melodically and harmonically. Is it a nightmare? Anyway it is threatening in the way dreams sometimes are. The last stanza says: ‘And I wondered at that dawn / Kissing her dewy lips / Was it a ghost I kissed? / I woke up from my ecstasy.’ In the penultimate song, Oli mulla kulta kaunoinen (I had a sweetheart fair) it seems that the poet dances a waltz with his beloved, long since dead. Whether this is autobiographical or a mere dream is beyond my power to judge. It is however a lovely song, like all the others, and I will certainly return to them with pleasure.
The playing of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra is, as usual, expert with a homogenous string sound. The orchestra was founded in 1972 by Juha Kangas and since 1989 it has been a fulltime professional orchestra with more than 60 discs to its credit. The recorded sound can’t be faulted and generally speaking this should be a disc for anyone interested in accessible, high quality vocal music. Jorma Hynninen has announced that the title role in Kimmo Hakola’s monologue opera Akseli Gallen-Kallela (a Finnish painter who was a pioneer for nationalistic art and thus a parallel to Aleksis Kivi), to be premiered in February 2013, will be his swan song. If so the present disc is a worthy terminus to an unprecedented artistic and recording career.
A worthy terminus to an unprecedented artistic and recording career.