About this Recording
8.572061 - NIEMINEN, K.: Palomar / Clarinet Concerto, "Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices" / Vicoli in ombra (Gallois, Raasakka, Sinfonia Finlandia)

Kai Nieminen (b. 1953): Palomar, Nel giardino fantastico (Flute Concerto)
Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices (Clarinet Concerto) • Vicoli in ombra


Kai Nieminen’s Flute Concerto: Palomar, In the Enchanted Garden introduces enchanting melodies woven into a modern idiom. The timbral ambience is lyrically impressionistic, but the work also has darker, mysterious hues. The flute is a highly adaptable soloist, at times a whispering breath on a starry sky, at others an arctic bird soaring above a winter landscape, taking startled flight on spotting a human figure.

The structure of the one-movement concerto relies on a recurring motif that, in undergoing transformation, generates new musical moods. The opening Andante misterioso is marked by a tender dialogue between the flute and harp supplemented by such percussion instruments as glockenspiel and a vibraphone. The texture is transparent, crystal-clear and sparkling throughout, and more in the nature of intimate chamber music, for the orchestration allows the various instruments to express their intrinsic characteristics and timbres. Nieminen in fact regards the concerto more as a symphony of character types and himself as a tone painter of fantasies from the life around him.

The idea for his Flute Concerto came to Nieminen at the Villa Lante in Rome when he was kept awake by persistent birdsong in the heat of the night. The title alludes to the last novel, Palomar, by Italo Calvino. Though Nieminen finds inspiration in literature, the visual arts and nature, he has no desire to confine the listener to any programme. The aim of the extra-musical stimuli is at most to fire his listeners’ imagination and to make them savour musical visions with a mind as open as that of Calvino’s Mr Palomar examining the little wonders of the world around him.

Nieminen composed his Flute Concerto for Patrick Gallois, who gave the première and conducted it at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan on 15 November 2001 with I Pomeriggi Musicali. Palomar received its Finnish première in Jyväskylä in 2003.

The Clarinet Concerto: Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices…immerses the listener in the dream-like world of Nieminen’s musical legends. From the very first bars the soloist is like a snake-charmer hypnotising all around. Again the inspiration for this work lies in literature: the novel Indian Nocturne by the Italian Antonio Tabucchi, the narrative of which wavers between real life and an imaginary world to create moods that cannot be logically interpreted. The book alludes to flashbacks to a previous life and, inspired by Tabucchi, Nieminen plays with musical déjà-vu experiences: a motif heard earlier in the work may, even in transformation, still be recognisable.

Nieminen’s interest in cultural and temporal planes is manifest in his ability to link the past with the present. In the first movement the tear motif borrowed from the Baroque finds multiphonic expression on the clarinet. This trill was the result of close collaboration with the soloist, Mikko Raasakka, and reflects Nieminen’s fascination both for new techniques and for early music motifs. The opening movement ends with a wistful Andante elegiaco passage in which the clarinet and bass clarinet in the orchestra prepare the way for a choralelike, melancholy melody for the soloist. The second, and most lyrical of the movements sees the clarinet painting figures over string harmonies while the percussion add flashes of twinkling light to the texture. The orchestral instruments are as “shadows” to the soloist while at the same time they seek dialogue by suggesting topics that are taken up by the clarinet. The concerto has two cadenzas, the first of which is improvised alone by the soloist and the second is a magical dialogue between the clarinets and percussions. The finale is virtuosic and impassioned, but the orchestral sound nevertheless remains translucent throughout.

Each movement of the concerto has a poetic motto taken from Tabucchi’s novel:

1. People who sleep badly always appear more or less guilty. What do they do? They make night present. (Maurice Blanchot)

2. The human body might well be regarded as only an appearance. It hides our reality. It lies thick over our light, or our shadow. (Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea)

3. Blind, Science is working the useless ground. Mad, Faith is living the dream of its cult. A new God is a word—or the mere sound. Don’t seek and don’t believe: all is occult. (Fernando Pessoa, trans. J. Griffin)

The Clarinet Concerto is dedicated to Mikko Raasakka, and was given its first performance in October 2002 by Vaasa City Orchestra under Hannu Norjanen.

Nieminen’s first work for orchestra, Vicoli in ombra (Alleys in Twilight), looks ahead to the world of Palomar and was likewise born in Rome. The orchestral writing is again limpid and airy and the music exudes a sense of serenity, calm and enjoyment of the mood of the moment. Nieminen has a gift for building with fantasy, yet his works always have a clear musical structure. Vicoli in ombra is like a journey into the shady labyrinth of the mind, as symbolised by the Trastevere alleys in Rome. They wind and intersect, like the Vicolo del cinque branching in five directions, but lead the traveller back to familiar scenes that nevertheless look different when seen with new eyes and from a novel perspective.

The work begins with an ostinato-like “walking motif” on the double bass, posing as the carefree observer. Wandering down an alley, he first encounters shady characters in the form of ludicrous, limping bassoons, then feminine woodwinds haughtily swinging along. The alley is at times thronged with people, at others they echo, deserted. About half way along the trumpet announces the main theme, and as the texture grows denser, the strings assume a different rôle and introduce more dissonance. In speaking of the form of the piece, Nieminen refers to Pablo Casals who, when asked what music was, replied: I always try to catch rainbows.

Vicoli in ombra was a commission from the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, which gave the première in 1995 with Ari Rasilainen conducting.

Henna Salmela
English version: Susan Sinisalo

Close the window