Happy the composer who has a recording company like BIS waiting to catch every work as it comes off the writing desk – and happy the recording company that has a composer of Kalevi Aho’s stature and fecundity generating a steady flow of fine music for the microphones. If I have counted correctly, this volume is the fifth in the BIS catalogue to be devoted to Aho’s chamber music, although the cover modestly makes no such claim – and it’s the 36th BIS release to present works by Aho, either entirely or in mixed-composer programmes. Labels have supported favoured composers in the past, of course, but I can’t think of any previous symbiotic relationship on such a scale.
The music here covers more than forty years, even if Aho’s perennial youthfulness makes that seem improbable. The opening Prelude, Toccata and Postlude for cello and piano (1974), not quite ten minutes in length, is in fact a compact sonata, sandwiching a helter-skelter central movement between two powerful slower ones, The Lamento for two violins, written in 2001 for the funeral of a violinist friend, packs a good deal of restrained emotion into its four-and-a-half minutes: it often suggested to me two friends discussing the departed, with memories of his antics occasionally enlivening the sorrow.
Halla (‘Frost’ in Finnish) is an eight-minute diptych for violin and piano, written in 1992, first declamatory but slowly relaxing into long-breathed, delicate lyricism. The 1973 solo-violin Sonata is one of two large-scale works here: its three movements weigh in at over twenty minutes. Aho’s programme note confesses that, alongside Bach, the Bartók solo sonata was his model for the piece (both that work and this, for example, open with a Tempo di ciaccona). The Bartók is generally held to be a masterpiece, and I would contest that this sonata of Aho’s is hardly less impressive; if the world’s violinists knew about it, they would programme it all the time – and Aho was 24 when he wrote it.
The other large-scale score in this programme is the one that rounds it off (and it’s also the most recent): Aho’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Hommage à Beethoven, written in 2016. Four of its five moments derive their material from the ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, with Aho taking them off in his own direction – a commentary, he says, rather than a paraphrase. The two sonatas are separated by In memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren for solo violin (2009), a deeply felt lament for the composer of the title, a good friend of Aho’s – and a friend of mine, too: Pehr Henrik Nordgren once took me into a pub in Kaustinen, and Kalevi Aho was already in there! A lament can be a passionate statement of emotion, and this one certainly is, but Aho restricts it almost entirely to a single melodic line, his restraint making the music all the more poignant. It’s another piece that violinists should have in their armoury.
The performances are as full of feeling as the music, and the recorded sound is bright and immediate – and BIS could hardly have crammed more music onto the SACD.
[Correction on 1 July, 2020; the album had mistakenly been referred to as a "CD", whereas the correct format is a SACD.]
Kalevi Aho: Chamber Music
Samuli Peltonen (cello), Sonja Fräki (piano), Jaakko Kuusisto (violin), Pekka Kuusisto (violin)