This (2015) is the year of Sallinen’s 80th birthday it having passed on 9
April just as I write this review. He is the senior figure in Finnish music,
not quite the heir to Sibelius as many expected but he has produced eight
symphonies and of late, several concertos and chamber music as this new
release aptly testifies.
Sallinen has shown, throughout his career, a real penchant for the cello.
In addition to the two solo cello works here there are a dozen others
including the Cello Concerto and a Sonata for solo cello of 1971. He has
discovered a true way of making the instrument sing but also making it
dramatic and powerful.
Many pieces by Sallinen are offshoots of larger ones. Shadows
52 uses material from the opera The King Goes Forth to France
From A Swan Song
Op. 67 uses material from the
1991 opera Palatsi
) as does The Palace
(on CPO 999 972-2). It’s a curious opera in that the central
character, the King, makes only one appearance late on in the piece. He is
then carted off to prison but not before he sings a complex and passionate
aria translated as ‘There is blackness in the sky’. It is this aria that
forms the basis for Sallinen’s Op. 67. This is at times mysterious and slow
in the rhythm of a cradle song and at others excitable and stirring. So, as
the usual high quality CPO booklet notes tell us (by Martin Anderson) the
work “unfolds as a kind of scena with two instruments as actors in a
dramatic dialogue.” Beginning on a repeated bottom C it ends back where it
began after a journey which ends “in desolation”.
The Piano Trio
is a significant work and Sallinen’s only
example. It was written for the present performers whom the composer
describes as “three outstanding Finnish musicians”. It is in one movement
but plays continuously being, according to the composer, a Moderato
or an Andante
in the notes. This is followed by an Adagio
and then an Allegro
. All have in common the fact that the material
for each gradually peters out and collapses into mere gesture and silence.
The reason is given in the composer’s brief notes . The Fugitive
are those of an artist who becomes blind and who can only paint
by colour memory. An interesting idea but one I can’t quite relate to the
musical substance ... or am I missing something? Despite that, this is a
melancholy work and also a beautiful one which I have returned to and will
do again. It’s economical and although not tonal exactly neither is it
unfocused on key centres. The performance captures the atmosphere but I’m
not always convinced that the performers are technically quite on top of
some of the more demanding passages.
A similar vein of nostalgia and regret often haunts the Cello
or it may be perhaps a reflection of a bleaker northern
landscape. To mitigate that mood there are many moments when sunnier
southern climes are searched out. It may be the long sweeping melodic lines
of the first two movements or their titles Barcarole
but the Italy of Venice comes to mind. The booklet notes
seem to confirm this with the comment that the composer could be “evoking …
the lover outside his lady’s window”. The third movement throws us into a
different world; it is a Tango - not unknown in Sallinen’s music. It tries
to escape at the end of the second movement and dies away into the somewhat
forlorn mood of the finale, the longest movement. This quotes fragments from
elsewhere and brings a satisfying full close to this thought-provoking work.
The players are the original dedicatees.
I’m not quite sure why performers and listeners have had a delay of four
years before this disc could finally emerge. CPO have been carrying through
a Sallinen project for a few years so perhaps this disc has had to wait its
turn. It has been well worthwhile however and adds usefully to our knowledge
of this crucial and fascinating elder statesman of Scandinavian music.
Previous review: Stephen Greenbank