Aho: Double and Triple Concertos / Elts, Antwerp Symphony
Concertos for cor anglais are few and far between, and harp concertos aren’t very common either. In combining the two, Kalevi Aho has come up with a true rarity – possibly the only double concerto in existence for these two instruments. Composed in 2014, the work was commissioned by the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra for two of its solo players: Anneleen Lenaerts and Dimitri Mestdag, who also perform it here. The work is characteristically eclectic, making the most of the sonic possibilities of the solo instruments, but also of the orchestral palette. The Antwerp Symphony Orchestra is no newcomer to Aho’s music, having previously recorded his concertos for trombone and trumpet. On the present disc, it also provides support for the Storioni Trio, in the Triple Concerto for violin, cello, piano and chamber orchestra, a joint commission by the trio and the orchestra. In 2017, as Aho started work on the concerto, his granddaughter was born. Having written a lullaby for her, he decided to use that as the core melodic material of the piece. The lullaby is heard several times in the first movement, which is quite tonal and very dreamlike. It also features in the movements that follow, while the harmonic language becomes more complex. Aho himself describes the work as having ‘a general atmosphere full of joy and positive (sometimes quite virtuosic) energy.’
The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho is amazingly prolific. Not only are there, so far, seventeen symphonies and five operas, but also no fewer than thirty-seven concertos. Here we have two of them.
The Double Concerto for cor anglais and harp begins very quietly, so quietly in fact that at first I thought there was something wrong with my player while sounds like background noises started emerging. However, the two solo instruments do enter and gradually the work gathers definition and then rhythmic bite. There is a cadenza for the two instruments before the music subsides. This first movement is as long as the remaining three together. The second movement is a short cadenza for the harp alone, a most attractive passage, which leads into a brisk and exciting allegro. The finale is again short and quiet and we return to something like the mood of the beginning.
The Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano is a more traditional combination, and the listener will at once think of Beethoven’s concerto for the same combination. Aho is obviously aware of this and does something quite different. For a start he uses a chamber orchestra, with strings and just two wind instruments. He rarely employs his soloists as a group together, but writes more in the concerto grosso kind of idiom, with a good deal of interplay between the soloists and the orchestra. If this sounds rather like Martinů, this is deliberate, and I was several times reminded of the Czech master in hearing this work. It is based on a lullaby he wrote for his granddaughter Matilda, which used the musical letters in her name. This comes several times in the dreamy and atmospheric first movement. This is followed by an energetic Presto, then another mysterious slow movement and a finale which starts slowly but soon speeds up.
The performers here are a mainly Belgian team, and they were all involved in the premieres apart from the conductor, who on those occasions was Martyn Brabbins, who has had quite a close association with Aho’s music. For whatever reason, he is not the conductor here, and that role is taken by the Estonian Olari Elts. He does a good job and secures confident performances. The sleevenote, in four languages is helpful. This is a SACD but I was listening in ordinary two channel stereo, in which the sound was immaculate. BIS has been supporting Aho for a long time and this latest issue is a worthy addition to their series. Aho’s fans need not hesitate, and those curious about trying this composer could well dip a toe in here.
-- MusicWeb International (Stephen Barber)
Release Date: December 03, 2021
Catalog Number: BIS-2426
Number of Discs: 1
Composer: Kalevi Aho
Conductor: Olari Elts
Orchestra/Ensemble: Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, Storioni Trio
Performer: Dimitri Mestdag, Anneleen Lenaerts