in Reviews

Concertante cordial

by Martin Anderson

"Kalevi Aho has been one of the major concertogenists, if I may coin that word, composing no fewer than 37 since 1981."

The flow of concertos from Finnish composers since the turn of the century has been nothing short of miraculous, and can’t be easily explained. Sure, Finland has a healthy number of musicians with international reputations and a large cohort of esteemed composers, and it is natural that the former should request works from the latter and, of course, that requests should come in from soloists abroad – but these same conditions exist in other countries, where this surge of concerto-creation has not been witnessed. Kalevi Aho has been one of the major concertogenists, if I may coin that word, composing no fewer than 37 since 1981.

Though I think I am relatively familiar with his style, I might have had some trouble identifying the composer of his Double Concerto for cor anglais, harp and orchestra (2014) to begin with: the work emerges from silence, a low harp twang and cor anglais monody growing out of the movement of the air and slowly finding music in the chaos; from there it gradually develops a considerable head of steam, rolling forward inexorably, with soloists in constant dialogue with the orchestra, until pausing for a double cadenza. The second movement (the work plays continuously) is a brief harp cadenza, which leads in turn to another long-legged Allegro, this one with a slight oriental tinge; indeed, the cor anglais often sounds as if he is calling the faithful to prayer. The music then passes into the Adagio finale – a quiet reflection on what has gone before, as if in sorrow, and the work disappears into the same soundscape from which it first emerged.

The Triple Concerto for piano trio and orchestra (2018) begins with a Lullaby based on the name of Aho’s newborn granddaughter Matilda and is correspondingly warm and gentle – there’s even a hint of English pastoralism to it. It snaps with startling suddenness into a runaway, swirling Presto, which eventually comes to rest, and the prayerful third movement (Tranquillo, misterioso) brings the most sheerly lovely music in the concerto so far; a degree of dissonance and anxiety which slowly pushes forward is resolved in the consolatory closing bars of the movement, each member of the trio taking turns to bring calm to the proceedings. The finale opens with a lyrical string recitative which brass and woodwind disrupt with a buoyant Allegro molto, and orchestra and trio somersault their way towards the end, pausing on their way for the occasional lyrical reflection. Aho dedicated the work to little Matilda, and his affection animates her concerto.

Finnish composer, Belgian and Dutch soloists, Belgian orchestra, Estonian conductor, Swedish label – all at the top of their game!

Kalevi Aho Double Concerto for cor anglais, harp and orchestra; Triple Concerto for violin, cello, piano and chamber orchestra

Dimitri Mestdag, cor anglais; Anneleen Lenaerts, harp; Storioni Trio; Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, cond. Olari Elts