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Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (2010) [31:42]
Concerto for Trumpet and Symphonic Wind Orchestra (2011) [31:41]
Jörgen van Rijen (trombone)
Alain De Rudder (trumpet)
Antwerp Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins
rec. 2015, deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium
BIS BIS2196 SACD [64:18]

Kalevi Aho must have written more concertos than anyone since the eighteenth century – there are already thirty – and he shows no sign of stopping. Nor would I want him to since he takes such a professional, thorough and enthusiastic approach to writing each concerto, exploring the characteristics of the solo instrument beforehand, with the player for whom it is intended, and considering carefully the composition of the orchestra. Nor are his works difficult to listen to. He has written concertos for all the usual instruments and some much less usual, including the theremin, the contrabassoon and a saxophone quartet. So concertos for two brass instruments, which another composer might have considered peculiar commissions, come as normal pieces of work for him. They are both full length works, in four movements each. I greatly enjoyed the soprano saxophone concerto I reviewed last year (review) and there is an index to all the reviews of Aho on MWI here.

The trombone concerto is not in fact Aho’s first use of the trombone in a concertante role, since his ninth symphony – as it happens, the first work of Aho I heard – features a solo trombone, in this case the rare soprano instrument. In the concerto, he writes mainly for the usual tenor trombone, with sporadic use of the alto. He also asks for mutes and occasionally uses unusual techniques to create chords or echo effects. The orchestra includes a baritone horn (a brass band instrument, like a euphonium but with a narrower bore), and some exotica among the percussion, including an anvil, glass water chimes, a water gong and three unusual drums: A djembe (a goblet drum from West Africa), and a pair of congas (tall, narrow, single-headed drums from Cuba).

The trombone is one of the loudest instruments in the orchestra, but Aho does not use his soloist in that way. He is given a flexible and idiomatic line, in partnership rather than competition with the orchestra, and with no barnstorming. The first movement is pensive and lyrical. The second features the unusual drums and also a very complex rhythm. The third is quiet while the fourth again features intricate rhythms and has the most complicated music for the soloist.
For the trumpet concerto, Aho uses what he calls a symphonic wind band. This dispenses completely with strings. It is based on the normal wind section of an orchestra but includes an alto flute, an oboe d’amore and two saxophones. The orchestral trumpeters are required to play flugelhorns instead, their mellower timbre contrasting well with the brightness of the solo trumpet. Again there is a baritone horn. The percussion includes a flexatone, hand bells and again two congas.

The first movement is marked misterioso. It begins softly, grows in power with a high lying passage for the soloist but ends quietly. The second movement is fast, jazzy and jolly. The third is an intermezzo with three cadenzas, none long. The finale features a thudding rhythm, a hypnotic, repetitive theme from the soloist. We end with reminiscences of the first movement and a long note from the trumpet, now muted.

Both works are attractive, varied and easy to enjoy. The soloists here are those for whom the works were written. The Antwerp Symphony Orchestra (formerly the Royal Flemish Philharmonic) play with gusto and Martyn Brabbins conducts with sympathy. I was surprised to see his name on this disc, but in fact this is not the first Aho he has recorded. I listened to the recording on ordinary two channel stereo and in that format the sound was all I could ask for. The booklet, in four languages and mostly written by the composer, is helpful. BIS are doing Aho proud and we should all be grateful.

Stephen Barber
Previous review: Dan Morgan


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