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Metsän Poika
Toivo KUULA (1883 - 1918)
Twelve South Ostrobothnian Folk Songs Op.17b (1908/9, orch. Hakola 2012)a [20:18]
Prelude Op.16b/1 (1909, orch. Sulho Ranta) [2:19]
Intermezzo Op.16b/2 (1909, orch. Sulho Ranta) [2:58]
The Song of the Sea Op.11/2 (1909, orch. Pekka Helasvuo) [8:40]
Wedding March Op.3b/2 (1908, orch. Juho Näykki) [4:52]
Kimmo HAKOLA (b. 1958)
Seven Songs to texts by Aleksis Kivi (2007, orch. 2011)a [22:33]
Jorma Hynninen (baritone)a
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
rec. Kaustinen Church, 20-23 February 2012
ALBA ABCD 348 [62:39]

Toivo Kuula's early and untimely death after a hunting accident deprived Finnish music of a more than promising talent. During his short life he managed not only to collect numerous Finnish folk songs that he and other composers used in their own works but also to compose a fairly substantial body of works in many genres. His very last work, the substantial Stabat Mater - once available on Finlandia - was in fact completed by Leevi Madetoja and first performed long after Kuula's death. 

He obviously has the lion's share in this release and the most sizeable work of his here is the set of Twelve South Ostrobothnian Folk Songs Op.17b. It was arranged as a cycle in 1908 and 1909 and is heard here in a very attractive scoring for harp and strings made by Kimmo Hakola. These folk songs are all varied and contrasted. They make for an enjoyable sequence encompassing a huge range of human emotions. They tell of life and death, of unrequited love, sad and joyful, full of dashing spirit and also meditation. 

All the other pieces by Kuula are heard in arrangements for strings by different Finnish musicians. The Prelude Op.16b/1 and the Intermezzo Op.16b/2 were originally composed for organ as was the somewhat earlier Wedding March Op.3b/2 whereas the fairly impressive Song of the Sea Op.11/2 was originally for mixed chorus. The latter was deemed too difficult to sing, although the Suomen Laulu choir nevertheless performed it with the celebrated Heikki Klemetti conducting. The rather dense contrapuntal writing may be more easily rendered through the medium of the string orchestra especially when played by so outstanding an ensemble as the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. 

Those of you who may have followed Kimmo Hakola's career will know that he started as a fairly radical composer. He was unafraid to use modern techniques, sometimes stepping into some wildly eccentric eclecticism. He then seemingly went through a rather severe stylistic crisis that eventually found its mark in the monumental Piano Concerto of 1996. This apparently unleashed new creative powers for Hakola has composed a number of major works such as the oratorios Le Sacrifice and Song of Songs as well as the opera La Fenice

He composed his song cycle Kivi-laulut for Jorma Hynninen. The original version was for voice and piano but Hynninen later asked for two different orchestral versions: one for voice and orchestra and the other for voice, harp and string orchestra - the latter heard here. The music is remarkably straightforward, warmly melodic and nicely varied in order to suit the various moods suggested by Kivi's words. Going by the apparently excellent English translation. Kivi's poems are straightforward and full of nice poetic imagery. Although fairly simple they are in no way simplistic,. One of my favourites is the fourth song, Oravan laulu (“The Squirrel”). Its text might be worth quoting in full but let me just give you the second stanza as an example:- 
“From its chamber up on high
It gazes over the world
Witnessing many a battle below
Waving an evergreen branch above
As a flag of peace.” 

I now wish that our contemporaries were more on the squirrel's side than that of the wolf. Hakola's straight-to-the-heart music perfectly suits Kivi's imagery and it is not afraid of being a bit nostalgic when necessary as in the sixth song with its waltz rhythm. By the way why is this particular poem not translated? 

Hynninen sings wonderfully throughout, be it in Kuula's folk settings or in the Hakola. The Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra play with heart-warming conviction obviously relishing every particle of the music. 
This is a very fine release that is really well worth exploring. I hope that we might have still more of Kuula's music on disc before long. 

Hubert Culot


See also review by Göran Forsling