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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supreme Craftmanship, 17 Jan 2010
Mr. A. R. Boyes "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Aho: Rituals (Audio CD)
Another exemplary BIS recording of works by Kalevi Aho. The programme was designed for a single concert and a single Cd. Aho's excellent liner notes tell how he designed the works as a group and his professionalism in working out the timings and linking the works together. Indeed Aho timed the works to last just under 80 minutes to fit a single CD. He wrote the works for reduced chamber forces simply because he hadn't written works on that scale for some time.

Anyone coming to the music blind might guess the composer as Shostakovich in his later years but with some added percussive spice. Some of the string writing and the use of unusual percussion in the Ritual symphony and the Viola Concerto show Aho to be a devoted fan of Shostakovich. For all that, these are fine works and stand as the finest forms of imitation imaginable. What differs, particularly in the Symphony, is the use of some exotic percussion or drums to be precise. It is as if he has paired down the percussive effects in his 11th symphony and the massive Luosto Symphony opening movement. Many of his symphonies have a concertante element and he has been happy to share this around the orchestra. These recent symphonies, however, have concentrated on drums particularly and percussion in general.

All three works are very attractive with a warmly expansive tonality and rich orchestral palette( showing his teacher Rautavaara's influence) even with such economical resources used. the three works complement each other very well - as they are intended to do. Aho said that they were to designed to be part of the same concert or as separate works. In my opinion I think they work best together as one larger piece.

As individual works the Viola Concerto and Songs of Question seem incomplete and require the symphony to make to close them. As a group it is questionable what the underlying themes are and Aho suggests that it was more a case of balancing and complementing the resources used. The mood, overall is quite dark and searching - like late Shostakovich, but the central Viola Concerto is a little more dramatic than the other two works with a fuller sound. the Songs and Symphony flank the work very well. The symphony perhaps works individually but, again, benefits from being set with the other works.

The only worry for me is that the works bear some of the hallmarks of Shostakovich's death haunted later works. Aho admits that the climactic gong section of the Symphony is like a funeral march. Shostakovich's works were written with the threat of impending death hanging over him. To be honest, there doesn't seem to be that same fear of and battle to reconcile with the threat of death. In his notes to his Flute Concerto he admits to coming to terms with death and bereavment stating that the concerto was a rare example of the personal playing a part in his work. For the works on this disc however, Aho sounds like he is playing with the ritual idea rather than dealing with anything personal.

Whilst strongly influenced by Shostakovich, Aho is one of a wonderful generation of Finnish composers and musicians. For such a small country you do wonder what they put in their food and drink to produce such a stream of talent. For anyone unfamiliar and would like to explore contemporary music further I can recommend also Magnus Lindberg, Saariaho, Salinen, Salonen and Rautavaara of course. None of these live in the shadow of Sibelius and have strong musical personalities of their own. They are among the strongest voices in contemporary music. They're all very different to each other but I can promise many rich pickings if you explore this repertoire.

Kalevi Aho he is a master writer for orchestra and large scale works. He is a master craftman working at the height of his powers. This CD continues a wonderful series.
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Aho: Rituals
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