Nordic Adventures: Finland

Sleeping Beauty – Festive March
The Fiddlers
A. Järvelä
Kaustinen Rhapsody
Traditional, arr. JPP
Funeral March
M. Järvelä/Alakotila
Hale Bopp
Traditional, arr. Alakotila
Traditional, arr. Kalaniemi
Ellin Polkka
Moraine [BBC Radio 3 commission: world premiere]
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105

Maria Kalaniemi (accordion)

JPP (Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä)

BBC Concert Orchestra
Jaakko Kuusisto

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 September, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Having rung the changes in recent seasons with its presentation of the ‘light music’ repertoire, the BBC Concert Orchestra here gave the first of two concerts focusing on the music of the Nordic countries, the spotlight falling on Finland for a programme combining the lighter and traditional aspects of a culture which had moved to the forefront of wider perceptions in the last two decades.

The rumbustious Festive March from Erkki Melartin’s 1911 incidental music to Sleeping Beauty made for a fitting curtain-raiser, while appreciable contrast was provided by The Fiddlers – arranged for strings by Einojuhani Rautavaara from an early piano suite, and engaging in the use to which folk melodies from the Ostrobothnian region are put over the course of its five diverse movements.

The BBCCO then made way for JPP – acronym for ‘Järvelän pikkupelimannit’ or ‘Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä’, an ensemble consisting of four violins plus harmonium and double bass, and exemplifying the traditional style of fiddle-playing for which the region of Kaustinen has become known way beyond Finnish borders. They breezed through Arto Järvelä’s alternately suave and energetic Kaustinen Rhapsody, and found a spirited pathos appropriate for his Murhe (Grief) – inspired by a documentary relating the impossibility of friendship between children either side of the Arab-Israeli divide. Good to hear a rendition of the tune immortalised at the 1936 funeral of folk musician Hintrikki Peltoniemi (well known outside Finland through Aulis Sallinen’s consideration of ‘Some Aspects’ of it in his Third String Quartet) – after which, Mauno Järvelä’s and Timo Alakotila’s Hale Bopp came as lively contrast.

Members of the BBCCO then joined with JPP and Maria Kalaniemi – the “Queen of Finnish free-base button accordion” (no less!) – for a selection comprising evergreens Napoleon (a wedding march of Finnish-Swedish origin, and the kind of tune that might have graced some of Ingmar Bergman’s less intense films) and Ellin Polkka, together with Alakotila’s insinuating tango Kuujärvi and Kalaniemi’s delightfully laid-back polka Linjärv. The same line-up (albeit with an expanded BBCCO) returned after the interval for Moraine, Alakotila’s 10-minute sequence of folk-tinged original tunes, skilfully assembled to make the most of their inherent emotional contrasts – commissioned for the concert by BBC Radio 3, and which will be heard on its “Late Junction” programme in the near future.

The concert ended with Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony – sounding even more implacable than usual given the prevailing mood, and in which the BBCCO demonstrated a grip that was never in doubt. Conductor Jaakko Kuusisto can take fair credit for this: a gifted violinist (like his brother Pekka), he is clearly much more than a ‘director’ when it comes to taking the podium. His performance brought out much of the organic unity in Sibelius’s culminating symphonic statement, and compensated for a certain lack of dynamic light and shade with an underlying energy that saw the piece whole. An interpretation evidently in the making, then, and yet another Finnish conductor to look out for in the coming years.

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