Author Topic: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)  (Read 91315 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #260 on: May 10, 2022, 10:49:53 AM »
Thanks!
I just went through Qobuz and made a playlist of the complete cycle (minus 6) plus a bunch of concertos, song cycles, chamber works, etc. My intention is to slowly listen or relisten to the complete Aho corpus and take detailed notes on my impressions.

I admire your tenacity in tackling that Aho project! He's an amazing composer. Looking forward to your notes and when you're done, please post them all here!
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Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #261 on: May 11, 2022, 11:32:09 AM »
(all notes based on BIS recordings unless noted)

Symphony No. 1: Kalevi Aho's symphony cycle begins with a quiet, almost still fugato for strings. It's a surprising debut and it means his first symphony begins not with boldness or vigorous youth or proud declarations or showing off, but with mystery.

The symphony as a whole portends a lot of elements of the composer's style: an air of mystery, an emotional arc that is hard to describe in words, eccentric orchestration choices (piccolo duet, percussion but no timpani I think?), parts which sound like they do not fit together but somehow do. In short, there's a scherzo dance led by solo violin which evokes Sibelius, then a fast movement which directly quotes Bach, then another fugal section to end, all in a kind of understated tonality.

The second movement dance eventually gets "stuck" in repetition, like a stuck record player. Ultimately it's an interesting but not essential piece, 28:30 in length, a show of the invention and potential to come. This was a student work, intended as a string quartet before his teacher - Rautavaara - suggested that it was orchestral in scope.

Couplings:
Silence: This title is more accurate than usual, as it took until 0:38 before I heard anything.  ;D a much more "pure sound" piece than the symphony, it explores effects, textures, and realistic evocations of various ambient noises from life. There are trumpets on opposite ends of the stage for a stereo effect. Kind of a typical "friendly modernist" 5 minute concert opener. The last 45 seconds are just a single high-screechy clarinet note.

Silence was composed as a lead-in to the...

Violin Concerto: The beginning melody immediately reminds me of the modernist lyricism of a piece like the Berg concerto, where the shape of the melodies and the harmonies are cold, but the violinist's tone is somehow warm and reassuring. There are prominent euphonium solos (!) as the music progresses. After a long violent orchestral episode, the soloist gets a cadenza with occasional percussion interjections.

The second and third movements show more of a sense of fun and play. Instrumental interactions are on a smaller scale, rather than Big Angry Orchestra, and the violin virtuoso work is on a less overtly flashy, more playful scale. The final "tempo di valse" is about as far from Viennese as you can get, and it ultimately disintegrates into a nocturnal atmosphere where the soloist, violin muted, duets with harps and other late-night instruments. The ending is basically inaudible.

This is a well crafted work in a style I personally don't love. That's just me!

Symphony No. 2: This is a well crafted work in a style I DO love. Like "the Mystery of Time" or the first movement of DSCH 10, it's a big long single arc from a quiet beginning which establishes the motives to a loud, fast climax, and then back down again to a quiet ending which recalls the pressures and tensions of the earlier music. It's sculpted with supreme beauty - I thought of Martinu slow movements in addition to Sibelius 4 and 7 - and is immediately attractive and gripping.

In this sense, it is an ideal intro to Aho, although I don't know if that is the case given how rapidly and how multifariously his style would evolve in the decades to come.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #262 on: May 11, 2022, 11:36:31 AM »
Great write-ups, Brian. Looking forward to more of them. You should do a blog of your musical musings and I know that's what a review could be for, but the structure could be looser and, ultimately, more fun perhaps.
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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #263 on: May 12, 2022, 12:15:00 PM »
Symphony No. 3: The first of the concerto symphonies, this one has extensive violin solos in all but one movement. The effect at first is to remind you of the Shostakovich violin concertos, but eventually it reminds me more of the Shostakovich symphonies, especially 7, 8, 11. The ones that evoke oppression and violence and the hushed, fearful response to it.

This is most true of the middle movements; the second builds to a humongous, absolutely awesome climax of great intensity, and then as a backlash the third is all slow, quiet, and mournful. (With no solo.) In the finale, the solo violin duets with martial snare drumming. The resulting piece is compelling and although it does not have a "Resistance" or political theme, a storyline could easily be imagined. (The violin is the individual, the orchestra the state.)

Considering all that, and the slightly Russian bent of the music, the orchestrated Mussorgsky songs are a perfect accompaniment. Aho's work is unobtrusive, and superb - not what Mussorgsky might have done, but not something that would annoy him either. A real meeting of minds.

My final listen for the week is the Chinese Songs off the Symphony 4 album. I already knew and loved this work, where the songs play continuously without break and the language is sweepingly vocal, lyrical, and lush. This time I detected more of the Chinoiserie musical cues than I'd heard before. It's thankfully not caricatured, just accented. Very different from usual Aho.

@ MI - thanks! These composer threads suit me well because these notes are mainly for my own memory. I'll often go through the works of someone like Aho, Tubin, or Rubbra and then, a month later, forget which ones I like  ;D . So these notes primarily are for my own records and to encourage future listening. Any discussion and conversation and dialogue that they inspire is a delightful bonus, like getting dessert afterwards.

Offline relm1

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #264 on: May 12, 2022, 03:00:01 PM »
Symphony No. 3: The first of the concerto symphonies, this one has extensive violin solos in all but one movement. The effect at first is to remind you of the Shostakovich violin concertos, but eventually it reminds me more of the Shostakovich symphonies, especially 7, 8, 11. The ones that evoke oppression and violence and the hushed, fearful response to it.

This is most true of the middle movements; the second builds to a humongous, absolutely awesome climax of great intensity, and then as a backlash the third is all slow, quiet, and mournful. (With no solo.) In the finale, the solo violin duets with martial snare drumming. The resulting piece is compelling and although it does not have a "Resistance" or political theme, a storyline could easily be imagined. (The violin is the individual, the orchestra the state.)

Considering all that, and the slightly Russian bent of the music, the orchestrated Mussorgsky songs are a perfect accompaniment. Aho's work is unobtrusive, and superb - not what Mussorgsky might have done, but not something that would annoy him either. A real meeting of minds.

My final listen for the week is the Chinese Songs off the Symphony 4 album. I already knew and loved this work, where the songs play continuously without break and the language is sweepingly vocal, lyrical, and lush. This time I detected more of the Chinoiserie musical cues than I'd heard before. It's thankfully not caricatured, just accented. Very different from usual Aho.

@ MI - thanks! These composer threads suit me well because these notes are mainly for my own memory. I'll often go through the works of someone like Aho, Tubin, or Rubbra and then, a month later, forget which ones I like  ;D . So these notes primarily are for my own records and to encourage future listening. Any discussion and conversation and dialogue that they inspire is a delightful bonus, like getting dessert afterwards.

Though I haven't commented, just wanted to say I enjoy your travelogue and find them spot on (so far at least).  Interested to keep reading as you encounter these works.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #265 on: May 12, 2022, 06:01:10 PM »
Another fine write-up, Brian. Keep 'em coming! 8)

You've actually inspired me to start writing some notes for myself about particular works that impressed me and ones that I need to go back and listen to again. I might even start my own blog just to record some of these notes.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2022, 06:20:31 PM by Mirror Image »
"Humility is society's greatest misconception."

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Online Maestro267

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #266 on: May 16, 2022, 10:34:20 AM »
Silence: This title is more accurate than usual, as it took until 0:38 before I heard anything. 


Dammit BIS...  ;D

Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #267 on: June 06, 2022, 06:01:40 AM »
Back from vacation and resuming my adventures in Ahology...



While hiking in the woods in Acadia National Park over Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few hours mentally sketching out a French horn concerto. I nailed down the structure and emotional arc, a couple themes, and some specific moments. One thing was clear to me: if you're gonna write a concerto for a solo French horn, the orchestra's horns need to get involved too. There's just nothing like a big blast of horns. (See: Tchaikovsky 4, Mahler 3, Schumann Konzertstück, etc.) Creating dialogues or echo effects also has the effect of amplifying a soloist who needs a bit of help carrying over the orchestra.

Well, Kalevi Aho's horn concerto is of course not at all what I had in mind, but he does agree on that one point: give big solos to all the horn players! They're surfacing all the time behind and alongside the soloist, like a school of dolphins following a cruise ship. It's a chamber orchestra, so I think there are only two, but Aho is at his absolute best weaving together various strands of musical sound and creating novel combinations in conversation.

Two more important notes. First, the horn soloist walks onstage after the piece begins, having begun their solo work offstage. They also walk off again at the end. For one section, they play behind the woodwinds, back with the other horn players.

Second, this may be the happiest or least enigmatic/troubled Aho piece I have yet heard. (Alongside the Chinese Songs and even less mysterious than the Triple Concerto with its dreamy lullaby.) It dances, it lilts, it has a lovely slow movement, it has folksy percussion - this is one of the few pieces that hasn't made me worried about Aho's mental state.  ;D I love it completely. It's one of my very favorites of his and it might be the piece, so far, that I'll return to most frequently. I'd love to see this in concert.

I am scared of the theremin concerto. Maybe later. Give me courage, guys.  ;D



Sieidi:
First, I like the backstory of the name (it refers to the Sami people of northern Finland; since the piece was being premiered by the London Philharmonic, Aho wanted to remind Londoners of the remote and endangered peoples of the world).

Second, I like the concept - a sort of shamanistic or primitivistic piece where the percussion soloist provides the color. To avoid ear fatigue, the soloist goes through their instruments in order onstage, creating different episodes with each one. Sometimes it changes the orchestral language; drum #2 (starting about 4') seems to inspire a little more Shostakovich-like orchestral language behind it. When the vibraphone comes up, Aho adds a lovely saxophone solo to echo its jazzy connotations.

In some slower sections, the orchestra seems to kind of chug along behind the percussion biding its time. It is a challenge, writing a concerto for an instrumental group that can't really express a theme (that has a hard time being expressive in general). I'd say Aho succeeds 80% of the time which is more than almost every other percussion concerto in existence. Another successful piece, although I prefer the first half to the second. And another quiet ending. I wasn't keeping track of how many pieces have quiet endings until now, but this is what the notes are for. Curious if it is a strong preference of his.
« Last Edit: June 06, 2022, 06:05:00 AM by Brian »

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #268 on: June 06, 2022, 08:07:04 AM »
Back from vacation and resuming my adventures in Ahology...



While hiking in the woods in Acadia National Park over Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few hours mentally sketching out a French horn concerto. I nailed down the structure and emotional arc, a couple themes, and some specific moments. One thing was clear to me: if you're gonna write a concerto for a solo French horn, the orchestra's horns need to get involved too. There's just nothing like a big blast of horns. (See: Tchaikovsky 4, Mahler 3, Schumann Konzertstück, etc.) Creating dialogues or echo effects also has the effect of amplifying a soloist who needs a bit of help carrying over the orchestra.

Well, Kalevi Aho's horn concerto is of course not at all what I had in mind, but he does agree on that one point: give big solos to all the horn players! They're surfacing all the time behind and alongside the soloist, like a school of dolphins following a cruise ship. It's a chamber orchestra, so I think there are only two, but Aho is at his absolute best weaving together various strands of musical sound and creating novel combinations in conversation.

Two more important notes. First, the horn soloist walks onstage after the piece begins, having begun their solo work offstage. They also walk off again at the end. For one section, they play behind the woodwinds, back with the other horn players.

Second, this may be the happiest or least enigmatic/troubled Aho piece I have yet heard. (Alongside the Chinese Songs and even less mysterious than the Triple Concerto with its dreamy lullaby.) It dances, it lilts, it has a lovely slow movement, it has folksy percussion - this is one of the few pieces that hasn't made me worried about Aho's mental state.  ;D I love it completely. It's one of my very favorites of his and it might be the piece, so far, that I'll return to most frequently. I'd love to see this in concert.

I am scared of the theremin concerto. Maybe later. Give me courage, guys.  ;D



Sieidi:
First, I like the backstory of the name (it refers to the Sami people of northern Finland; since the piece was being premiered by the London Philharmonic, Aho wanted to remind Londoners of the remote and endangered peoples of the world).

Second, I like the concept - a sort of shamanistic or primitivistic piece where the percussion soloist provides the color. To avoid ear fatigue, the soloist goes through their instruments in order onstage, creating different episodes with each one. Sometimes it changes the orchestral language; drum #2 (starting about 4') seems to inspire a little more Shostakovich-like orchestral language behind it. When the vibraphone comes up, Aho adds a lovely saxophone solo to echo its jazzy connotations.

In some slower sections, the orchestra seems to kind of chug along behind the percussion biding its time. It is a challenge, writing a concerto for an instrumental group that can't really express a theme (that has a hard time being expressive in general). I'd say Aho succeeds 80% of the time which is more than almost every other percussion concerto in existence. Another successful piece, although I prefer the first half to the second. And another quiet ending. I wasn't keeping track of how many pieces have quiet endings until now, but this is what the notes are for. Curious if it is a strong preference of his.

8)

You should've be afraid or weary of the Theremin Concerto, "Acht Jahreszeiten". It's a beautiful piece --- full of that Ahoian mystique and shadowy nature painting.
"Humility is society's greatest misconception."

My "Top 5" Favorite Composers: Debussy, Mahler, Strauss, Sibelius and Bartók


Offline kyjo

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #269 on: June 06, 2022, 09:00:30 AM »
Back from vacation and resuming my adventures in Ahology...



While hiking in the woods in Acadia National Park over Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few hours mentally sketching out a French horn concerto. I nailed down the structure and emotional arc, a couple themes, and some specific moments. One thing was clear to me: if you're gonna write a concerto for a solo French horn, the orchestra's horns need to get involved too. There's just nothing like a big blast of horns. (See: Tchaikovsky 4, Mahler 3, Schumann Konzertstück, etc.) Creating dialogues or echo effects also has the effect of amplifying a soloist who needs a bit of help carrying over the orchestra.

Well, Kalevi Aho's horn concerto is of course not at all what I had in mind, but he does agree on that one point: give big solos to all the horn players! They're surfacing all the time behind and alongside the soloist, like a school of dolphins following a cruise ship. It's a chamber orchestra, so I think there are only two, but Aho is at his absolute best weaving together various strands of musical sound and creating novel combinations in conversation.

Two more important notes. First, the horn soloist walks onstage after the piece begins, having begun their solo work offstage. They also walk off again at the end. For one section, they play behind the woodwinds, back with the other horn players.

Second, this may be the happiest or least enigmatic/troubled Aho piece I have yet heard. (Alongside the Chinese Songs and even less mysterious than the Triple Concerto with its dreamy lullaby.) It dances, it lilts, it has a lovely slow movement, it has folksy percussion - this is one of the few pieces that hasn't made me worried about Aho's mental state.  ;D I love it completely. It's one of my very favorites of his and it might be the piece, so far, that I'll return to most frequently. I'd love to see this in concert.

I am scared of the theremin concerto. Maybe later. Give me courage, guys.  ;D



Sieidi:
First, I like the backstory of the name (it refers to the Sami people of northern Finland; since the piece was being premiered by the London Philharmonic, Aho wanted to remind Londoners of the remote and endangered peoples of the world).

Second, I like the concept - a sort of shamanistic or primitivistic piece where the percussion soloist provides the color. To avoid ear fatigue, the soloist goes through their instruments in order onstage, creating different episodes with each one. Sometimes it changes the orchestral language; drum #2 (starting about 4') seems to inspire a little more Shostakovich-like orchestral language behind it. When the vibraphone comes up, Aho adds a lovely saxophone solo to echo its jazzy connotations.

In some slower sections, the orchestra seems to kind of chug along behind the percussion biding its time. It is a challenge, writing a concerto for an instrumental group that can't really express a theme (that has a hard time being expressive in general). I'd say Aho succeeds 80% of the time which is more than almost every other percussion concerto in existence. Another successful piece, although I prefer the first half to the second. And another quiet ending. I wasn't keeping track of how many pieces have quiet endings until now, but this is what the notes are for. Curious if it is a strong preference of his.

Thanks as ever for these detailed and entertaining write-ups, Brian! Aho is one of those composers who I keep meaning to more fully investigate, but never get around to for whatever reason.
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music" - Sergei Rachmaninoff

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #270 on: June 06, 2022, 09:49:01 AM »
Thanks as ever for these detailed and entertaining write-ups, Brian! Aho is one of those composers who I keep meaning to more fully investigate, but never get around to for whatever reason.

 :o You really need to make him a priority, Kyle. He's right up your alley.
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Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #271 on: June 06, 2022, 12:04:25 PM »
Symphony No. 5
The description is quite intimidating: a symphony depicting the way that life is full of conflict and clash, when people's values and rights conflict with each other, when emotions are mixed together, when happiness is tinged with sadness, etc. To paint the picture, Aho uses two orchestras and two conductors which often play in different tempos, racing to pass or catch each other.

I was worried my ears would need a stiff drink before or after listening. But, in truth, it's not extremely challenging as a listen, though it requires full concentration. It has some things in common with Adams' Harmonielehre, late Shostakovich, Kabelac, and most surprising, good ol' traditional fugues and fugatos. The counterpoint is clear. The dissonance has direction and structure. Although some atmospheric effects like burbling woodwinds may bring, say, Ligeti to mind, the music maintains a very strong feeling that it is Going Somewhere and developing organically in pursuit of that destination.

The climaxes build to steadily greater intensities each time, with the third movement's being a real doozy - the orchestras divide, reach a fever pitch of chaos, and then separately break out into silly circus music waltzes, with a demonic swirl of dissonance in between. The music crashes to a collapse, and the final movement forms a sort of mournful, healing postlude, with the French horn and harp consoling each other in the aftermath of disaster. Then things wake up again, but only a little.

That third movement in particular is overwhelmingly intense and frightening and must have been absurdly hard to compose. The piece is only 24 minutes long but an absolute monster which requires fully committed listening. And, of course, it's really really good. I can only imagine listening every year or so but wow, what a work.

Theremin Concerto
A promise is a promise!
Parts of this are really really good. The orchestral accompaniment is perfectly judged. I kind of wonder if any composer in history has ever had a technical mastery of instruments, instrumentation, and orchestral balance on the level of Aho. He might be the best orchestrator ever? The theremin is surprisingly interesting and appealing in parts (I almost thought it was a cello on its entrance; the first two movements are great), although I don't know that it's very good at expressing emotion. Some of the, like, whale call type sounds were not my thing personally.  ;D The fifth movement, Winter Frost, especially, sounds kinda like rubbing your face on a staticky carpet or something. Little bit vacuum cleanery. No thanks.

The rest gets better again. Overall, it is I think a piece that I can respect a whole lot, while not necessarily always seeking it out as a personal choice. Like the percussion concerto Sieidi, it employs an instrument that can't really "carry" the emotional weight of the piece and must be used mainly to create loads of colors and textures. I guess I just like percussion better. But I am genuinely surprised, even astonished, at how well he makes the theremin work here.


Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #272 on: June 07, 2022, 06:16:20 AM »


Bug out! It's the Insect Symphony, inspired by the movie "A Bug's Life." Okay, no, it's from an Aho opera. Anyway, it is an oddly structured piece in six movements of wildly divergent styles, and it probably should have been called a "suite." The various movements depict various insects in musical languages so different there's a bit of whiplash.

First up: parasites and larvae. This is probably the most stereotypically contemporary Aho that I have heard yet. By that, I mean, wild random sounds spouting out in various directions, shock chords, noodly solos, surprise allusions to past composers, and an attitude of seemingly taking everything moment by moment. This creates a jarring transition when we get to the second movement, which is a jazzy foxtrot that could be straight out of Shostakovich's Jazz Suites. Gershwin probably could have written exactly this in his late years, after he'd started incorporating tone rows. And then...we get "grief of the dung beetles over stolen ball of dung."  ;D

The grasshopper scherzo is a bit like the scherzo in Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, but with more violins and too long for the material. Then we get a march of working ants, probably my favorite movement. It sustains its length well by building up from a humble march to a mechanical music of factory life, a la Chaplin's score to Modern Times. (I'm sure Aho would not be flattered by this comparison, but it is a compliment; Chaplin's score is a masterpiece.  ;D ) The final movement is the longest, a lullaby for dayflies, and it begins with clear nods to Janáček's operatic scores (particularly the first big tune from the Cunning Little Vixen suite--sorry, I don't remember where in the opera it originates). It ends with a long, slow dirge for double basses alone--yet another of Aho's ultra-quiet endings.

I'll be honest: this is the first non-success, at least to my ears, in the Ahoverse. Almost every movement is too long for its material, and they come across as a suite of ideas, not a coherent symphonic structure. As a ballet suite, reduced from, say, 46 minutes to 30, this could be a winning piece. But overall, this one just ain't for me. I do see, with interest, that in 2005 Vanska presented this live in Minnesota (coupled to a Mozart overture and concerto). Our own Bruce caught a broadcast and says the audience gave a standing ovation! (Especially impressive because of the downer quiet ending.)



I'm going to spend the rest of the day in other repertoire, starting with the Uchida Diabelli Variations Todd just praised to the skies, but first I decided to try the 26-minute sonata for two accordions. Some people would consider this 26 minutes of punishment, certainly. But it's an interesting piece. Sinister yet meditative, with slowly uncoiling, dark-toned ideas that often start in lower registers, it's a whole mood. The two movements, of equal length, are a prelude and passacaglia, and then a prelude and fugue. The accordions are almost used like mini organs, in that their colors are meant to imitate other instruments at times. I'm particularly intrigued when the right-channel accordion tries to sound like a bass clarinet a la Eric Dolphy. Not for everyone, this, but really cool if ya ask me.

Online DavidW

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #273 on: June 08, 2022, 04:19:59 AM »
I decided to try the 26-minute sonata for two accordions. Some people would consider this 26 minutes of punishment, certainly. But it's an interesting piece.

Nice try, but you're not fooling me!  What is next, a glowing recommendation for Penderecki's Threnody transcribed for bagpipes? :-\ :)

Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #274 on: June 08, 2022, 07:02:25 AM »
Nice try, but you're not fooling me!  What is next, a glowing recommendation for Penderecki's Threnody transcribed for bagpipes? :-\ :)

 ;D ;D



The Clarinet Quintet begins with a 90-second clarinet solo which does not hint very much at what will follow. It's enigmatic but not gloomy, keeping its cards close to the chest. Then when the string quartet enters, the music becomes surprisingly extroverted, almost but not quite folksy. All that energy seems to eventually wear out the first movement, which ends with a very slow downward slide by all the instruments. (Aho does seem to associate getting slower with moving downwards.)

The second movement fulfills a scherzo-like role. You can't help noticing the judiciousness with which he allows everyone solos and moments to shine; the clarinet, for example, gets big parts and then just enough time to rest and prepare for the next one. The clarinetist, by the way, is an obscure instrumentalist named Osmo Vänskä, playing with leaders from the Minnesota Orchestra. Aho does separate the clarinet from the pack again at the midway point of the work's structure, where there's a solo cadenza which is faster than the surrounding slow music.

Only in the fourth movement (of five) do we get the really gnarly, creepy, weird Aho that we're used to from the orchestral works. The first three movements are some of his most formally and harmonically conventional music, and the fifth/finale is a lullaby (quiet ending. Drink!), but the fourth movement brings the piece to an emotional climax. In the final sum, it's a fairly conventional piece, and a pleasant well-crafted but ultimately not super memorable one.

The trio for clarinet, viola, and piano is comparatively much "tougher," lots of drama and some DSCH influence. The viola gets a lot of uncomfortably high writing which wails a bit. This definitely feels like a pendant to the Shostakovich chamber music legacy. To me the accordion piece is an easier listen, but that is not gonna be a majority opinion  ;D

Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #275 on: June 22, 2022, 07:42:31 AM »


Aho's Symphony No. 8 is a big boy, at 50 minutes and across 8 movements. (Introduction, scherzo, interlude, scherzo, interlude, scherzo, interlude, epilogue.)

It's also ambitious. The booklet notes are called "The tragedy of society and the individual, and its musical setting." The booklet essay explains, "the symphony focuses on the fundamental questions of an individual's experiences and life." The introduction gives us a basic rhythmic motif, and then each scherzo builds in complexity and volume (literally). The organ soloist gets cadenzas in the interludes and frequently participates in the rest of the music, often acting as an extension of the woodwind section by playing high-pitched notes which interact with and imitate the flutes and piccolo.

Indeed, if there's a failure here, it's the Introduction, which is so quiet that I did not hear the bass drum rhythm advertised by the booklet. All I heard for the first minute or so were flutes and organ. Oh well.

In general, the interludes contain the more thorny, doubting music, while the scherzos start off with more innocent or folksy harmonies. This being Aho, the scherzos all become intensely complicated over time - they certainly are not set up in the classical trio format - but his habitual gloom is mixed up with glimmers of optimism, hope, and sheer color. In the third scherzo, the music finally builds up to one of his trademark chaotic climaxes, as multiple time signatures battle for supremacy and the organ boldly interrupts the orchestra's plans. Things head for the cliff. Eventually we get a super gnarly passage with a grinding, ugly organ chord, snarling trombones, and a loud, murderous snare drum tapping out a scene from an execution. After this, we get muted strings singing softly, in a Sibelius 6-like moment, and then slide into the last organ interlude, which preserves this new mood, the hush after the cataclysm. The symphony has a quiet ending (drink!).

Big, imposing, grand, ambitious, but not one of my favorites. Aho has a clear pattern, and each new work that fits into the scheme of "enthusiastic innocence shattered by the chaos and contrapuntal anxiety of life, followed by a post-crisis contemplative reverie" feels more and more stereotypical.

Pergamon is a weird 10-minute piece for four narrators who stand around the hall reciting things. It doesn't really work on headphones.



When I was going through the cycle earlier, I listened to the Chinese Songs but forgot about Symphony No. 4. Revisiting now. It begins with a curling, lonely string melody which has the harmonic shape of a Shostakovich theme. This is developed into a fugue - an ambitious way to begin a symphony. A trumpet fanfare attempts to wake the orchestra up, and succeeds; the movement has a clear symmetrical up-and-down arc, building to a climax and then sliding back to the quiet fugal theme again. It feels much shorter than its 19 minutes.

The scherzo is pure Shostakovich - almost to the point of sincere parody. There is a rumbling chortling tuba solo around 5' that's fun, but man...hard to get beyond the pastiche factor of this movement. It's also the only fast movement, meaning 35 of the symphony's 45 minutes are marked adagio or lento.

The finale is lento, very quiet mostly, with ethereal or angelic or ghostly (but not creepy) textures - celestas, trembling violins, gentle birdcalls. Then, halfway through, we get a weird, surreal military fanfare interruption, with bright trumpets, snare drum, and insincere major key chords. This sets a big melody awing, but things gradually simmer back down to a quiet celesta-only ending. Yes...another quiet ending (drink!).

Three works today, and none of them destined to join my favorites, although the Fourth especially has a lot of memorable moments.

Offline CRCulver

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #276 on: June 22, 2022, 08:11:09 AM »

Indeed, if there's a failure here, it's the Introduction, which is so quiet that I did not hear the bass drum rhythm advertised by the booklet. All I heard for the first minute or so were flutes and organ. Oh well.

The bass drum is there, and I have always heard it clearly. However, BIS recordings have wide dynamic range and assume that you are listening to the recording in an environment where you can set the volume loud enough to hear the pianissimo moments, yet you don't have neighbors who would be bothered when the fortissimo moments come. I can think of quite a few passages of Aho’s music as recorded on BIS that will escape listeners who don't have an appropriate listening environment.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2022, 08:13:03 AM by CRCulver »

Offline Brian

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Re: Kalevi Aho(born 1949)
« Reply #277 on: June 22, 2022, 09:26:57 AM »
The bass drum is there, and I have always heard it clearly. However, BIS recordings have wide dynamic range and assume that you are listening to the recording in an environment where you can set the volume loud enough to hear the pianissimo moments, yet you don't have neighbors who would be bothered when the fortissimo moments come. I can think of quite a few passages of Aho’s music as recorded on BIS that will escape listeners who don't have an appropriate listening environment.
I'm at work, on headphones, and the white noise of the heating/cooling air system is probably obscuring it. Definitely a flawed listening environment.