Toivo Kuula was from the generation following in the giant footsteps of
Sibelius, a daunting prospect. Indeed, he was one of Sibelius's students in
1907, and there is obvious influence in the writing for strings and
woodwinds. However, Kuula was more influenced by Finnish, in particular
Ostrobothnian, folk music than Sibelius. In case your knowledge of Finnish
geography is as limited as mine, Ostrobothnia is a province on the west
coast, facing Sweden. The year of Kuula's death might suggest that he was a
casualty of the Great War, but not so. He was notoriously hot-headed, and
got into a drunken argument during celebrations at the end of the Finnish
civil war and was shot.
The Festive March
was written to celebrate the tenth
anniversary of the Suomen Laulu choir, and as such, it is perhaps surprising
that it is purely orchestral. It has very definite Sibelian elements, and is
appropriate grand - the notes describe it as solemn, which I don't hear at
Suite No. 1
has three folk tune-based movements, which
are enjoyable for their tunefulness and simplicity, but it is the opening
and closing movements, which are all-Kuula, that impress most. There are
certainly Sibelian touches, the plucked strings under the brass that opens
, but the delicacy of the scoring of the middle section
led by the cor anglais is quite beautiful. Song of Dusk
closes the work, also features a solo part for cor anglais, but it is the
strings which have the lead role.
Suite No. 2 is similarly contrasted, with again three movements based on
folk-tunes, while the others show the results of his studies in Italy,
Leipzig and especially Paris. Rain in the Forest
is very Debussian.
which completes the work is a rather enigmatic
name for music that is the most intense and dramatic, and also as long as
the other four combined. That said, it is very fine music that has few
Sibelian touches. The booklet describes it as Impressionistic, which to an
extent it is, but for me, Rimsky-Korsakov comes to mind.
The Prelude and Fugue were written separately, the latter written first.
The Fugue comes from his time studying with Enrico Bossi in Italy, and works
up a fine head of steam by the end, very much in the mode of the Bach fugue
orchestrations by such luminaries as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and
The Second Suite and the Prelude and Fugue have been recorded on a Dutton
disc of a few years ago, which Rob Barnett described as "very impressive"
). I haven't heard it, but I don't believe that
it would surpass this. I note that in both works, the Dutton is far quicker:
by four minutes in the Suite and two in the Prelude and Fugue. This doesn't
strike me as necessarily a good thing, as I didn't have any sense of drag
with the Ondine. While the BBC Concert Orchestra (for Dutton) is probably a
better ensemble, the Turku Philharmonic has this style of music in its
blood. If you already have the earlier recording, you will want this. If you
don't and the idea of Sibelian-inflected works appeals, your choice will be
between the all-orchestral Ondine and the mixed vocal and orchestral
After writing so often about the poor treatment of downloads, especially
in connection with booklets, I'm pleased to be able to report a "good news"
story, though it didn't start out that way. When this appeared on the
eClassical New Releases list, I was very irritated to find that the booklet
was not provided. A quick check on other download providers gave the same
story. I contacted eClassical to ask why this particular Ondine release
should be missing its booklet, when others on their site did. I made the
point that this was music by a little-known composer, and hence, the booklet
was rather important. They promised to check with their supplier, which is
not the label itself. I didn't hold out any great hopes, given reports from
my colleagues on the track record of that particular supplier in dealing
with other problems. Imagine my delight when eClassical got back to me a few
days later to say the booklet was now available. They didn't indicate why it
hadn't been there from the start, and I chose the diplomatic route of not
The more I listen to this, the more I have enjoyed it, and I can see it
ending up on the shortlist for my Recordings of the Year. What a shame there
is not much more in Kuula's orchestral oeuvre.