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Jaakko KUUSISTO (b. 1974)
Leika for symphony orchestra Op.24 (2010) [11:35]
Violin Concerto Op.28 (2011-12) [30:38]
John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
Violin Concerto The Red Violin (2003) [33:53]
Elina Vähälä (violin)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Jaakko Kuusisto
rec. Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland, April and August 2012
Hybrid Super Audio CD can be played back in Stereo (CD and SACD) as well as in 5.0 Surround sound (SACD); SACD Surround reviewed.
BIS BIS-SACD-2020 [77:04]

Another magnificent recording from BIS and the Lahti orchestra, this time of very recent music.
 
The name John Corigliano may be familiar but that of Jaakko Kuusisto is probably not. Corigliano's Violin Concerto has been recorded before but Kuusisto's two pieces are new to the catalogue. His website describes him as "one of Finland's most versatile musicians, with a busy schedule as violinist, conductor and composer ... his compositions include three operas, several chamber music works, and music for motion pictures."
 
The first item on the disc is a short orchestral piece entitled Leika. This starts with gently undulating sounds. These are joined by a long-breathed string theme which grows in power. After a dramatic climax the music dies away. Those familiar with English 20th century composers like William Alwyn will recognise the genre and undoubtedly enjoy the work. I certainly did.
 
Kuusisto's Violin Concerto opens with a cadenza, which is unusual. There is a dramatic exposition with both rhythmic and lyrical elements. A beautiful Lento movement makes much use of high violin writing and develops into a passionate outpouring of feeling with a rich orchestral accompaniment that sounds a touch oriental on occasion. Kuusisto certainly knows how to make fascinating orchestral sounds. This slow movement comes to a haunting end allowing the Molto Allegro finale to make its full impact. The Finale has a gentler central section before an exciting coda. This concerto is an immediately attractive work that really should get performances all over the world. It is not a groundbreaking work as were, say, the concertos by Berg and Stravinsky, but it is music with real audience appeal. It demands and gets a performance of the utmost virtuosity from the spectacularly accomplished Elina Vähälä.
 
Corigliano's Violin Concerto was derived from his music for the film The Red Violin. It starts with a Chaconne, based on a theme announced by brass and drums. Filigree orchestral sounds accompany the entry of the soloist. Things soon warm up with a lot more energy and drama. Corigliano is very imaginative in his use of this Baroque form and it never sounds anachronistic, indeed it comes over as passionate and deeply felt. The Chaconne was initially performed as a stand-alone work and it was not until later that the composer decided to add the remaining movements and turn it into a fully fledged Concerto. The Scherzo is more acidic in tone but the sounds are fascinating and not at all aggressive. The Andante that follows is positively graceful, a quite lovely invention that runs directly into the Finale. This sounds like a barn dance with lovely crunchy sounds from the solo line, made, say the notes, by pressing on the strings so hard that there is no pitch at all. There is a strongly romantic interlude to balance all this Stravinskian energy and as befits a work of this scale, the Chaconne theme returns to give the piece unity and round things off.
 
This disc should appeal to those who fear the atonal extremes of modern music. If Berg, Schoenberg and perhaps Bartók are not your thing, but you like the Violin Concertos of Sibelius, Prokofiev and perhaps Stravinsky, then this is very much worth purchasing. It can be classified not as an 'easy' listen but as strongly tonal music with definite tunes and both orchestral and solo thrills. When performed like this, and the word 'perfect' comes to mind with Elina Vähälä's playing, and with a recording as sumptuous and detailed as here, then despite never having heard of either composer you will not regret the purchase. I am glad to be acquainted with this music and will return to it.
 
The valuable notes are mostly by the two composers. The excellent Lahti orchestra is directed by Jaakko Kuusisto himself. His concerto is dedicated to the soloist Elina Vähälä.  

Dave Billinge

Experience Classicsonline