KALEVI AHO (b.1949): Piano Concerto No. 1, Timpani Concerto.
Catalogue Number: 06T061
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Aho's series of concerti - one of the most extraordinary (and extraordinarily successful and diverse) cycles in musical history - continues apace, and BIS is having to work hard to play catch up. (The Timpani Concerto was written in 2015, and there have been six since.) This work is typical of Aho's recent concertante output; very firmly tonality-based, tailored precisely to the requirements and capabilities of the solo instrument and thus of necessity entirely unlike any of its companion works, and full of character and expression. Typically of the composer's immersive approach to concerto composition, he was determined to make this as much a soloist-centred virtuoso showpiece as any more conventional concerto, and so it is, fully exploiting the rhythmic and dramatic, but also the melodic and expressive capabilities of the modern pedal timpani. A mysterious, slow barcarolle is abruptly interrupted by a high-energy presto which gives way to a demanding cadenza replete with pedal glissandi. A brief Intermezzo follows, featuring atmospheric shadings of tone color from both orchestra and soloist. The next movement is an exhilarating, propulsive allegro, energised by the rhythmic drive of the timpani, assisted by the orchestral percussion (and getting as close as Aho is ever likely to to the 'rumble' from West Side Story). The fourth is the concerto's real slow movement, mournful and sombre, with the soloist contributing tremolo four-note chords to the harmony. A hectic presto leads to an epilogue which returns to the mood of the opening. The First Piano Concerto is the third in the sequence, from 1988, when Aho's compositional methods and preoccupations were rather different. The work is formally organised on mathematical and numerological sequences, the basis of which Aho sort-of explains in his notes. The composer manipulated these calculations to yield a sixteen-note sequence from which he derived four added-note triadic chords. The result of this is that although functional tonality is largely absent, the harmony sounds very tonal indeed, though in a manner very distinct from Aho's more recent vocabulary. The first movement is a big virtuoso solo vehicle, fulfilling the function of similar movements in countless Romantic concerti; the slow movement is static, the soloist reiterating permutations of the 16-note material against textured orchestral sonorities; the third movement is a rapid, percussive toccata; and the enigmatic and sonorous finale introduces new material (based on π), which finally leads to freedom from the work's systems, sounding suspiciously like a rather tonal triumphant peroration. Sonja Fräki (piano), Ari-Pekka Mäenpää (timpani), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Eva Ollikainen, Erkki Lasonpalo (timpani cto.).