Salmenhaara
Suomi-Finland
La fille en mini-jupe
Adagietto
Le bateau ivre
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
Eri Klas

Recorded January 2003 in Tampere Hall, Finland
CD No: ONDINE ODE 1031-2
Duration: 70 minutes
Reviewed: January 2005
The Finnish composer Erkki Salmenhaara was relatively short-lived (1941-2002). This pupil of György Ligeti seems, on the strength of the music here, not to have adhered too much to his teacher; indeed these four orchestral scores, each attractive and accessible (excepting some aspects of Le bateau ivre), if too similar when heard back to back, could only really be Finnish in outlook and clearly owe a debt to Sibelius.
Suomi-Finland begins with a commanding call to attention, a threnody of nationalistic fervour, a mix of Sibelian and image-suggesting language; soul-stirring, no doubt about it, as panoramic orchestral swells of emotion segue into a fugal section. The style is eclectic, the compositional devices similarly wide-ranging. The music speaks directly if rather too disjunctively; nevertheless such eliding from seemingly non-related section to section contains some engaging ideas and the composer utilises a large orchestra with skill and imagination: sometimes dramatic, sometimes classically elegant. More often than not some sort of striving is evident and when the music becomes dissonant it is for adding drama rather than part of a musical process. Shostakovich is sometimes suggested; but the juxtapositions more suggest Alfred Schnittke. Yet, musically, in Suomi-Finland the invention wanes in the last third of this 20-minute work, and ‘victory’ (if such it is) is all too easily achieved.
However, the booklet note suggests that Suomi-Finland is a less than complimentary comment on Sibelius’s Finlandia – which never occurred to this listener.
The 17-minute La fille en mini-jupe is a darkly translucent brand of Impressionism; melodic and suggestive means are utilised, a cold landscape is suggested, and there is a filmic element to the music. ‘La fille’ herself is from Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ (Préludes Book 1, Number VIII), which makes an appearance halfway through the piece (on the piano that Debussy enshrined her). It’s a nice moment, as is Salmenhaara’s filigree use of the orchestra here … but it’s not overly clear as to what the composer is trying to ‘say’, and the use of quotations from and allusions to Beethoven (Waldstein Sonata and Choral Symphony) only muddy the waters further. The close is a rather drawn-out, sombre meditation.
The brief Adagietto is succinct, its shifting expression quite compelling, private, exquisitely crafted but with the feeling that it has been heard before, somewhere. Le bateau ivre, at 24 minutes, is the longest piece, and begins in Sibelian gloom (Pohjola’s Daughter, Symphony No.4), the use of a harpsichord strengthening the relationship with Schnittke. In some respects this is the most sustainable music on the disc, the work (from 1966) that returned Salmenhaara to tonality (albeit still shaking off his experimental earlier phase), specifically here the triad. Powerful and brooding, Le bateau ivre signals faith in the symphony orchestra and in traditional musical means; many pages here are of originality and consequence, and it’s good to have a recording to reinvestigate its particular chordal clusters and dark utterances.
All the music exudes a curious fascination, especially Le bateau ivre, and there’s no doubting the superbly committed performances given by the Tampere Philharmonic under Eri Klas. Given the tangible, very vivid recording, one imagines that every brushstroke of sound that Salmenhaara notated is perfectly captured.

 

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