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Whirlwinds of energy and colour

by Martin Anderson

"Haapanen writes for the orchestra as for a collective of virtuosi and the FRSO do not let him down in this scintillating performance."

Kimmo Korhonen’s booklet note provides an thumb-nail introduction to Perttu Haapanen (b. 1972) and his music: it "features a post-serialist profusion of detail and complexity but also embraces rich sonorities, often drawing on the 'extended instrumental techniques' favoured by modernists and on noise effects." 

Compulsion Island, the opening work on this album, is what one would have called, in the olden days, a symphonic poem: written in 2014 and heard here in a live recording, it is a sixteen-minute tourbillion of energy and orchestral colour, veering from one outburst to the next, occasionally stumbling on little islands of calm; individual instruments or entire sections shout or whisper their own commentaries as appropriate. Haapanen writes for the orchestra as for a collective of virtuosi and the FRSO do not let him down in this scintillating performance. 

The song-cycle Ladies’ Room (2006–2007, rev. 2008) is less successful, I fear. It intercalates four nonsense settings (all labelled as "Hommage à Adolf Wölfli" – Wölfli being the schizophrenic Swiss artist who served as an inspiration to the Danish composer Per Nørgård in a number of his works) between settings of five texts drawn from a variety of disparate sources, with the chamber-orchestral accompaniment changing as with twists of a kaleidoscopic. Korhonen quotes Haapanen to the extent that "this is not an Expressionist work like Schoenberg’s Erwartung" – but if not, it comes close. Mind you, Erwartung doesn’t go in for humour as Ladies’ Room does, but this kind of whimsy is very difficult to bring off, and in spite of Helena Juntunen’s virtuoso performance, the result comes across as stilted and laboured, like a joke you’ve had to explain. Even so, there are moments of extraordinary invention, of colour and of feeling. 

At almost half an hour in length, divided into two more or less equal spans, Haapanen’s Flute Concerto (2018) bids to be a major addition to the repertoire of the instrument. With a concerto, of course, questions of form raise their head more explicitly than with the two other works recorded here, and Korhonen points to an a traditional three-movement concerto structure implicit behind the two spans of the work. But it is, of course, the foreground, not the background, which meets the ear first, and here the piece might seem more a series of dance-episodes, with the flute and orchestra exchanging a series of courtesies – indeed, the music would be an excellent candidate for balletic treatment, since some sort of scenario seems to be sitting not far below the surface. Yuki Koyama, first flute of the FRSO, gives what would appear to be a sterling account of the piece (also taken live), having worked in close contact with Haapanen as he was writing it. The recording serves the transparent textures well, too.

HAAPANEN: Flute Concerto; Ladies' Room; Compulsion Island
Yuki Koyama (flute), Helena Juntunen (soprano), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Hannu Lintu & Dima Slobodeniouk
Ondine ODE 1307-2