Symphony No. 3; Cello Concerto
Marko Ylönen (cello), Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. John Storgårds
Ondine ODE 1086-5 (77 minutes)
Finnish musicians and record companies have been good to their Baltic neighbours ever since the Soviet tanks withdrew and the Balts could decide their own foreign policy. Ondine’s recording of the Second Symphony and Violin Concerto by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks won ‘Disc of the Year’ in the Cannes Classical Awards in 2004.
The Second Symphony was performed on that CD by the forces that now return tackle Vasks’ Third Symphony (2004-5), joined by Marko Ylönen in the Cello Concerto (1993-94).
Vasks has an essentially Manichean view of the world, seeing it as the forum for a cosmic battle between good and evil, a battle which is constantly played out in his music, which is clearly concerned with the grand ideas of life. Interviewing P?teris Vasks at the Presteigne Festival on the English-Welsh borders last year, I asked him about the similarities of some passages in his music to the soundworld of Shostakovich, and he answered disarmingly that the necessity of expressing evil in his works necessarily led him to the same sorts of sound as Shostakovich had produced.
Both works here play out that great struggle, and both are in single spans, the Symphony encompassing four movements, the Concerto five. If you are sympathetic to large-scale Shostakovich (in works like the Eighth and Eleventh Symphonies), you will probably enjoy this CD as much as I did, although in the Third Symphony, as in the Second, I wonder whether he doesn’t overwork his material just that bit too much.
The Tampere Philharmonic, through its arrangement with Ondine, is now providing some of the most important recordings of contemporary and recent music, Finnish and otherwise, that are appearing on the market these days: in the past few years these Vasks discs, Einar Englund, Erkki Salmenhaara, Kaipainen, Melartin, Merikanto and more. I await the next recording with that critical cliché, keen anticipation.