Risto-Matti Marin’s recital of unknown Finnish Romantic piano music is a triumph. The works he has chosen all arouse surprised respect – who knew? – and he plays them with unhesitating conviction.
Richard Faltin’s set of variations, nine minutes in duration, isn’t really Finnish piano music, though: Faltin (1835–1918) was from Danzig and only later an important figure in Viipuri and Helsinki; he studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire, where he wrote these variations in 1861. Risto-Matti Marin’s booklet essay (a fascinating read in its own right) points to a resemblance to Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses; there are also echoes of Schubert in the theme itself (think of the phrase ‘starrt in die Höhe’ from Der Doppelgänger). Although it’s a student work and not wildly individual, it does show a high degree of professionalism – which it also demands from its pianist.
Ilmari Hannikainen’s sonata is even more precious: it seems that he began it while still at school; it was finished in 1912, the year in which he turned 20. It’s an amalgam of Chopin, Liszt, Grieg, Sibelius and Karelian folksong, which may make it sound derivative, but that mix of influences is itself an original combination, and again and again the music makes you sit up and take notice of an imaginative turn in the melody or the harmony.
Martin Wegelius’ Three Fantasy Pieces (1872) exude gentle, wistful charm; no other music in this recital is so relaxed – though sudden effusions of energy have a vigour that suggests Brahms (then only in his thirties, of course); and they also foreshadow Stenhammar’s Three Fantasies, Op. 11.
The stark no-nonsense bluntness of Sirkka Harjunmaa’s 1948 Wedding March thus come as something of a surprise (was her wedding really such a severe affair?); her 1947 study has a rather hobgoblin, flinty-eyed sense of humour. This recording was made in September 2018, not quite three months before Harjunmaa’s death in early December, at the age of 92. Marin’s programme note records her interpretational advice to him (‘Think of Sibelius!’), but doesn’t state whether she was able to attend the sessions or hear the result.
The D flat major Piano Sonata (1945) of Einari Marvia (1915–97) is a Grieg-meets-Rachmaninov Romantic effusion, relying on full textures for much of its barnstorming effect, and of all the pieces recorded here it’s the one with the least personality of its own. The Ostrobothnian folksong itself gives Marvia’s Op. 10 variations (1935) a bit more character, and it has moments of real beauty.
Risto-Matti Marin’s performances – of music that is often fearsomely difficult – have a real swagger and confidence, and he has been given superb recorded sound. This kind of ‘recovery recital’, as one might term such a programme, often turn out to be of limited interest, but this one turns out to be a glorious vindication.
Risto-Matti Marin, piano
Alba ABCD 446