Laet Lauloi (The Chant Enchanted)
Michio MIYAGI (1894-1956)
Haru No Umi (The Sea in Spring) (1929) [6:52]
Janne IKONEN (b.1975)
Verso (Sprout) (2003) [4:38]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata in C major for flute and basso continuo BWV 1033 [8:25
Carl Phillip Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in A minor for solo flute WQ 132 [14:00]
Aki YLI-SALOMÄKI (b.1972)
Raanu (Weaving) (2012) [7:36]
Jimmy LÓPEZ (b.1978)
Warped Symmetry (2011) [8:37]
Ulkas PULKKIS (b.1975)
Laet Lauloi (The Chant Enchanted) (2006) [8:26]
Sami Junnonen (huilu – flute)
Eva Alkula (kantele) (Miyagi, Yli-Salomäki); Elisa Kerola (kantele) (Ikonen, Pulkkis); Heidi Äijälä (kantele) (JS Bach)
rec. Inkoo Music of Finland, July 2013 & July 2014
SIBA RECORDS SRCD-1016 [59:00]

Over the last few years I have reviewed a few discs of music for flute, all of which I enjoyed immensely. Here is another shining example. This one showcases the talents of Finnish flautist Sami Junnonen whose playing is truly sublime. For this disc he has carefully chosen compositions that highlight many of the flute’s attributes and the disc is an absolute joy from start to finish (no pun intended). Junnonen is demonstrably a complete master of the art of circular breathing, an essential facility to ensure the seamless quality that this music embodies. These days I am resigned to discovering composers new to me but it is rare to be introduced to an instrument that I have never heard of before. One of the attractions of this disc when I saw it in the list of records to review was therefore the fact that here was one such, the kantele, also known as a lap harp. Wikipedia explains that it “is a traditional plucked string instrument of the dulcimer and zither family native to Finland and Karelia. Its relatives can be found throughout the world, including Estonian kannel, Mari kusle, Russian gusli, Latvian kokle, and Lithuanian kanklės. Together these instruments make up the family known as Baltic psalteries. Kantele is also related to the ancient Asian instruments such as Uyghur kanun, Chinese guzheng, Japanese koto, and Korean gayageum”. Together with the flute, these two instruments produce the closest impression of otherworldly sounds that can be imagined.

It would be hard to conceive a better representation of the otherworldly nature of flute and kantele than the first work here by blind Japanese composer Michio Miyagi. This was originally written for the koto, a Japanese instrument related to the kantele (see above), as are other Mongolian and Vietnamese versions. All of this emphasises once again the truly international nature of music and instruments throughout history. The music here is incredibly calm and sounds as I think most of us in the West imagine music from Japan will sound. It is simply yet beautifully stated and saturated in a timeless quality.

Janne Ikonen’s short piece is entitled Sprout because the composer wanted the music to grow freely in his mind rather than be subjected to a rigorous plan, just as a plant grows after sprouting from the soil. He has certainly achieved that, since it does indeed develop in various directions within its short time frame.

Any work by J.S. Bach is so finely crafted that one can rarely say anything more about it except to concentrate on the performance (though I read a letter in a magazine by someone who was quite convinced that he never intended his Art of Fugue to be published because he considered it unworthy). In this performance the basso continuo is performed by the kantele and it works really well with the instrument sounding very much like a harpsichord. One of the most satisfying things about writing reviews is that the research one does while writing often reveals information that one had not known before. An example of this is that I discovered something many other music lovers will already undoubtedly be aware of. Specifically, in his day C.P.E. Bach was considered to be the greatest member of the Bach dynasty; yes, even greater than J.S., leading Mozart to tell the Viennese aristocrat and influential patron Gottfried van Swieten that “Bach is the father. We are the children”. In fact, during the second half of the 18th century, when mention was made of the name of Bach it was almost exclusively understood to refer to C.P.E. Bach rather than his father. The sonata for solo flute is proof of C.P.E. Bach’s incredibly inventive brain and could easily be held up as confirmation of his genius. It flows so totally naturally and the music’s progression is so logical it could seemingly have been written in no other way. It is a perfect example of a piece with not a single note out of place. Add to all this the fact that Sami Junnonen’s playing is so crystal clear and the phrasing so impeccable and you have a marriage made in heaven.

The piece entitled Raanu (Weaving) exists in four versions, set by composer Aki Yli-Salomäki for various combinations of kantele and guitar paired with violin or flute in 2012. The calm and tranquil nature of the piece is exemplified in this version for kantele and flute. The kantele’s notes are left to linger until they disappear creating a mysterious yet peaceful atmosphere. The disc’s other solo work is by Peruvian composer Jimmy López and was composed for and dedicated to Sami Junnonen in 2011. Entitled Warped Symmetry, it is an example of a work where a listener like me can only imagine enjoyment being enhanced by some technical knowledge of the way the music is conceived and written. At least that is the impression I got from reading the composer’s notes. I quote as an example: “The constant fluctuation between the anticipated and the unpredictable creates a sense of instability that keeps the piece in motion”. I enjoyed it despite not really being able to discern those two states.

The final work on the disc is the title piece, Laet Lauloi (The Chant Enchanted) by Uljas Pulkkis. It was composed to a commission as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Sibelius Academy’s kantele class in 2007. In Finland’s famous epic the Kalevala, the God  Väinämöinen makes the first kantele from the jawbone of a giant pike and a few hairs from Hiisi's stallion (Hiisi was the chief of the mythical entities in the saga). The music it makes draws all the forest creatures near to wonder at its beauty, as Wikipedia explains. It is fascinating that an instrument that has ‘relatives’ in such far flung and disparate places, from Russia to Korea and Central Asia to Vietnam, can find its way into something so fundamental to Finland as its national epic, despite its origin in the 19th century. The Kalevala has it that the music that emanates from the kantele as played by Väinämöinen expands across the entire universe in waves – in a similar way, I imagine, to ripples in a pool when a stone is thrown into it. This atmospheric piece perfectly illustrates that impression and is a suitable conclusion to this unusual but entirely engrossing disc that combines the introduction to an enchanting instrument played by three different expert practitioners coupled with the superlative playing of a master of the flute. The only fly in the ointment, and which I presume has nothing to do with the artists, is the six fold booklet which is printed in such a way as to be almost unreadable in artificial light. The English is printed in gold against a background of either light blue or white. It may look cool but really I wish booklet producers kept the reader in mind rather than trying to make a design statement!

Steve Arloff

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