KALEVI AHO (b.1949): Piano Sonata No. 2 “Hommage à Beethoven”, Sonata for Solo Violin, In memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren for Solo Violin, Halla for Violin and Piano, Prelude, Toccata and Postlude for Cello and Piano, Lamento for 2 Violins.

Catalogue Number: 05V059

Label: BIS

Reference: 2186

Format: SACD hybrid

Price: $19.98

Description: Although his prolific output of concerti and symphonies tends to overshadow his works for smaller forces, he has produced a sizable body of chamber music, of which this is a most attractive sample. His idiom remains that of entirely approachable extended tonality familiar from his larger works. Prelude, Toccata and Postlude (1974) begins with a forceful introductory movement, followed by a driven, motoric Toccata. The last movement is unexpectedly serious and introspective. Lamento was written in memory of a young violinist. A gentle, pained elegy, it has something of the anguished atmosphere of a Shostakovich slow movement. Halla (frost) refers to the fragile, 'frozen' ending, toward which the work retreats from its forceful, declamatory opening. The large-scale solo violin sonata is an homage to Bach and a commentary, in Aho's musical terms, on the Chaconne from the Partita BWV 1004. The first movement is marked 'Tempo di ciacona', and without actual quotation it is very clearly based on the character of the opening and the figuration of other variations from Bach's work. The language is not that of Bach, but it is clearly tonal. The following Andante continues in similar vein, again alluding to the opening of the Bach. The next movement uses the BACH motif as the subject of a grand and stately fugue, and from this point onward the piece is both a celebration of Bach and the young composer defining his relationship to tradition, setting out a position that he has broadly adhered to ever since. Aho's tribute to Nordgren was written for violinist-conductor John Storgärds, whose commission for a piece from Nordgren went unrealized when the composer died before beginning it. Storgårds asked Aho for an in memoriam piece instead, which Aho based on a musical cypher of Nordgren's name (E–H (=B)–D–G). The work alternates passages of whirling, ascending figuration - a combination of frenetic folk dance and an ethereal flight into the unknown, and sections of otherworldly tranquility. The 2nd Piano Sonata is difficult to classify. A very fine, large work in five movements, it would rightly be regarded as a work of considerable significance by any pianophile who was somehow unacquainted with the Hammerklavier. But in fact it is a tribute to Beethoven, and makes constant reference to the Op.106 (aside from the fourth movement, a cascading carillon with no connection to Beethoven at all). Aho suggests that it has something in common with a 19th century paraphrase, or a more contemporary commentary; it could also be described as a Fantasia on the Hammerklavier in Lisztian or Busonian vein - a bold concept indeed. Beginning with an elaborated version of Beethoven’s opening, the first movement draws on its model's material, very freely, in an impressive and technically challenging movement that incorporates a large fugue; there follow a slow movement, a scherzo based on material from Beethoven's second movement, the bell piece, and finally a Beethovenian last movement that draws previous motifs together, but is suddenly dismissed by a flock of Messiaenic birds and an enigmatic, inconclusive ending. Whatever you make of it, unless you find it sacrilegious, it is a powerful, striking and original work in its own right. Sonja Fräki (piano), Samuli Peltonen (cello), Jaakko Kuusisto (violin), Pekka Kuusisto second violin).

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