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Jaakko KUUSISTO (b. 1974)
Play III for string quartet, Op. 21 (2008) [10:44]
Valo ('Light') for violin and piano, Op. 23 (2009) [12:09]
Play II for violin, viola, cello and piano, Op. 16 (2005-06) [13:45]
Loisto ('Glow') for violin and piano, Op. 12 (2000) [5:06]
Jurmo for piano solo, Op. 31 (2013) [11:25]
Meta4 (Play III)
Jaakko Kuusisto (violin: Valo, Play II, Loisto), Paavali Jumppanen (piano: Valo, Jurmo), Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma (viola: Play II), Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello: Play II), Heini Kärkkäinen (piano: Play II)
rec. Järvenpää Hall, Finland, February 2015
BIS BIS-2192 SACD [54:18]

Up until now my experience of Jaakko Kuusisto has been largely as a violinist and as a conductor, areas where he seems to excel. I was interested to hear his own compositions, many of which feature his own instrument; indeed he performs on three of the works presented here, Valo, Play II and Loisto. Both as a performer and as a conductor he is most associated with the music of Sibelius, of which I have some of his fine recordings. He has also been an advocate of Kalevi Aho and it could be argued that his own music is influenced by both composers.

The disc opens with Play III for string quartet, superbly performed by Meta4. Here Kuusisto shows his pedigree as a violinist in the way that he melds the strings to produce a powerful tonal piece. This, for me, is finished all too soon rather than outstaying its welcome. The work packs a lot into its near eleven minutes with its contrasting sections getting the best out of the quartet. It makes me long for more.

This is followed by three pieces featuring the composer himself. The first and third of these were composed for violin and piano and are pieces composed for Kuusisto to perform in concert. Valo, the latest of the two and the more substantial, is an attractive mix of French impressionist music. Ravel and Debussy spring to mind, especially in the piano, but this is tempered with an icy Nordic flavour, no ‘pink bonbons filled with snow’ here. In contrast Loisto, from which the disc takes its name, is the earliest and shortest piece on the disc. It begins quite quietly before coming to life with more dramatic and forceful music which reminds me a bit of Prokofiev. Again, whilst this is an attractively powerful piece, I wish this work was longer. There is material here to develop and expand upon. Despite these two pieces being composed for Kuusisto to perform, the sense that the music comes first is strong in both works. Neither are here merely to exemplify his prowess as a violinist.
Play II is in essence a piano quartet (violin, viola, cello and piano), and is the most dramatic of the five works presented on this disc. Indeed, Paavali Jumppanen, who also appears as pianist in Valo, in his excellent booklet notes, likens it to a piece of film music. Although there are instances when the stringed instruments come to the fore, especially the violin, it is the piano which is the main force behind this music. At times it is pulsating and driving whilst in other sections it is more subdued and supportive but ever-present. A wonderful piece expertly played.

The final work on this disc, Jurmo, is for solo piano and is also the most recent. It is inspired by the island off the Finnish coast from which the piece takes its name. In this respect it could be said to be reminiscent of Maxwell Davies Piano Trio in its depiction of the sea lapping around the island's shore. That is where the similarities end. This is a more impressionistic piece, although there are instances when the theme develops out of a series of repeated notes and phrases which is almost akin to minimalism.

This is a wonderful disc, one which proves an excellent introduction to Kuusisto in that it leaves you wanting more. This is modern music which is very attractive and approachable, no ‘squeaks and grunts’ here, rather well constructed tonal works in a modern idiom. The performances are all first class as is the recorded sound: a must for Nordic aficionados.
Stuart Sillitoe
Previous review: Dominy Clements



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