Einar ENGLUND (1916-1999)
Violin Concerto (1981) [28:39]
Uuno KLAMI (1900-1961)
Violin Concerto Op. 32 (1943, 1954) [28:09]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Oulu Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Gustavsson
rec. Helsinki, 8-9 May 2015 (Englund), 4-5 March 2016 (Klami)
ONDINE ODE12782 [57:03]

Here are two Finnish violin concertos each approaching half-hour in duration and each in three movements. Neither is avant-garde, unduly challenging or especially cerebral.

The Englund is the later of the two and while not lushly romantic it is approachable in an open-hearted and welcoming way. It is a passionate work couched in a language that is a slightly saltier version of the idiom of Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. The first movement is quite full-lipped but gets into some excitingly abrasive corners. The finale is vibrant and vibrantly put across by soloist and orchestra - the writing has that wistful yet ever so slightly acerbic quality one finds in Rawsthorne. It's a very satisfying concerto but not one that plays supinely to the romantic gallery. It has been recorded before by Kaija Saarikettu on Finlandia and was last seen on the Warner-Finlandia 'Meet the Composer' series - a series that should be reissued given its spread of virtues.

Schmid and the Oulu Orchestra then turn to the Klami Violin Concerto which is a more succulent and even melodramatic work than the much later Englund. It was premiered by Anja Ignatius in Helsinki in 1943 and the score was then lost for ten years. Often Klami's later works - as with Madetoja - tend to desiccation and neo-classicism. Here, while there are some time-marking moments, the music breathes an oxygen-rich air - under the thrall of Sibelius and Prokofiev 1. It's fiendishly active in the outer movements with the finale both gauche and slippery with fairytale fantasy. It also reminded me - especially in the first movement - of a work Klami presumably had not heard: the Walton Violin Concerto.

The Klami has been recorded on CD before by Jennifer Koh on Bis (review). That is an all-Klami disc which gives it an edge. A similar Klami affair can be found on another Finnish label Alba (review). There the soloist is Pekka Kauppinen. It also appears on Finlandia in Klami's own Meet The Composer double in which the violinist is Ilkka Talvi who originally set down that version in 1983 on the cusp between LP and CD. Determined collectors will also know of a very fine Finnish Radio broadcast by Olavi Palli.

The Ondine recording has plenty of pull and punch - witness the finale of the Englund and a subtle poetic distancing heard to best advantage in the innocently singing Klami Adagio and in the wispy bell-sounds as 2:35 in the first movement of the Englund.

The supportive and factually detailed liner-essay is by Kimmo Korhonen and is in English and Finnish.

A vital imagination is evinced by every aspect of this disc.

Rob Barnett

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