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Phillip Scott
Fanfare, July 2010

Uuno Klami (1900–1961) is one of the best-known of those Finnish composers who flourished in the wake of Sibelius, although Klami was also influenced by French and Russian music of the early 20th century. He was especially renowned for his orchestral works, of which the five tone poems comprising the Kalevala Suite (1943) are the most familiar and most often recorded. His best music maintains a bracing rhythmic momentum and reveals an attractive vein of lyricism.

The tone poem Northern Lights (1946) was new to me. The piece does not seem to have been recorded before (or, at any rate, no previous recording appears to be available). It evokes a Sibelian atmosphere; Klami’s music became more appreciably nationalistic after the Second World War. It is a lovely work, with a Ravelian sheen to the orchestration. While there are moments where swirling woodwind and harp glissandi suggest the dazzling phenomenon of the northern lights, Klami’s penchant for melodic cells keeps the music anchored. Around the 10-minute mark a cheeky waltz episode appears, and a suitably grand chorale provides a satisfying coda.

The Cheremissian Fantasy for cello and orchestra (1931) is in two movements, slow and fast, its thematic material loosely based on folk tunes from northern Finland. The cellist is given the bulk of the melodic material, which young soloist Samuli Peltonen plays here with fine tone and lots of heart.

The main work on this disc is the Kalevala Suite. In five movements, its layout could be regarded as symphonic. The first movement, “The Creation of the Earth,” is the equivalent of a sweeping symphonic allegro with a mysterious introduction and gentle postlude added. The second movement,“The Sprout of Spring,” is a scherzo with a lyrical second subject; the third, “Terhenniemi,”—apparently a late addition—serves as an evocative interlude before the calm of the slow movement, “Cradle Song for Lemminkäinen,” and grandeur of the finale, “The Forging of the Sampo.”

The suite’s programmatical basis lies in the great Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, which also inspired much of Sibelius’s music. Indeed, Klami’s work was initially commissioned by Robert Kajanus, chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic and a friend and champion of the older composer. (Kajanus died before the suite reached its final completed form.) Sibelius does not seem to be a major influence until the final movement, and even then the theme on which the movement is based (first played by the English horn) primarily suggests Grieg. Again, Klami’s melodic ease and expertly detailed orchestration leave their stamp on the work.

Storgärds and the modern-day Helsinki Philharmonic give it everything they’ve got in this stunningly recorded program: Tender moments sound gorgeous, the climaxes leap out at you, and Storgärds’ plush, well-balanced orchestral textures do not preclude tension or drama…This new Ondine release is definitely the one to go for.

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