Nature broman ABCD473 1

Recharged by Nature
Andrea Tarrodi (b.1981) Acanthes
Mats Larsson Gothe (b.1965) Lied von der Erde
Britta Byström (b.1977) Im Freien
Sauli Zinovjev (b.1988) Recharged
Pekka Kuusisto (violin: Tarrodi)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Malin Broman (violin)
rec. 2022, Snellman Hall, Kokkola, Finland
Alba ABCD473 [70]

Malin Broman’s states in her brief introduction to this disc that the four works included “…all have roots in the earth…” In concise terms, Andrea Tarrodi weaves fragments from Swedish and Finnish folk tunes into the fabric of Acanthes, whilst Britta Byström’s concerto for single violin Im Freien has been influenced by the indigenous music of West Africa, specifically that made by the contagious harp-like instrument the kora. Mats Larsson Gothe’s not remotely Mahlerian Lied von der Erde alludes to the oft cited notion of (folk) music emerging literally from the physical soil; the programme is completed by Recharged, an brief yet aptly named moto perpetuo for strings by Sauli Zinovjev, a youngish Finn (the other contributors are all Swedes), his propulsive contribution demonstrating a hint of cross-Scandinavian (or at least Swedish-Finnish) co-operation (this is also effected by the participation of the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto who joins Broman (a Swede) as a soloist in Acanthes) So maybe Broman’s claim refers to the Earth in its broadest sense – or perhaps the album’s underlying ‘concept’ is actually a mild contrivance, the ‘themed’ album being a staple of the classical industry these days, for better or worse….

None of which is not to say that the music is not worth hearing. Because it is, by any measure. I am not the only one to have raved about Andrea Tarrodi’s colourful, communicative and accessible music on these pages in the past (review, review and review) and her truly brilliant double violin concerto Acanthes only reinforces this view. While folk fiddle traditions clearly play their part in its arc, the work was conceptually influenced by the artist Henri Matisse’s decoupage technique to which he turned when painting became physically intolerable for him after being diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1943. (Tarrodi’s own attractive ‘acanthus’ designs in this style constitute the disc’s artwork). In the utterly magical introduction, the soloists each enter a spiralling, muted string orchestral white noise with hints of two atmospheric folk melodies before ever-so-gently winding their melodic threads together. (We are told that Broman’s Swedish tune is Brudmarsch efter larshöga jonke while Kuusisto contributes the Finnish melody Kopsin Jonas). A tentative passage follows in which soloists and orchestra feel their ways forward, before sea-bird cries (a Tarrodi fingerprint) seem to lead them toward to a rather Delian sounding nature mood. In the meantime a shimmering, fragile orchestral ostinato pattern provides support. Much of this material is subsequently revisited and reworked in a manner which hints at some kind of big moment to come (a sense of anticipation which is most certainly not frustrated). The interplay between the soloists is thrilling as at the ten minute mark they instigate a rather violent duel. The orchestra join in and shadow this jig-like material – the Ostrobothnians’ all-in commitment here is something to behold. By 12:30 all is calm – a sustained note in low strings, threads of melody from elsewhere. These fibres melt into a chorale of glowing austerity, profound rather than sad, which radiantly supports quiet harmonics from the soloists. The chorale builds to a climax Rautavaara might have appreciated before fading. At this point the spiralling textures of the opening are now taken-up by the soloists. Earlier melodic fragments peep through the cracks. The vehement duelling patterns return in captivating fashion at 18:30 before ceasing abruptly leaving quiet yet resilient modal folk-like material. This morphs into a vigorous dance at 20:40; this time the duellng fiddles are pitted against a high, sustained drone. I cannot speak highly enough of Tarrodi’s ingenious arranging skills here. At 22:00 we get the pay-off – a terrific resolution, a wild ride which binds soloists and orchestra together. A brief hiatus, and a new tune takes over at 23:30. Tarrodi’s development of this takes us through to the conclusion. Kuusisto’s and Broman’s solo work is spellbinding as is the Alba recording – the balances for what are clearly diverse and fluctuating sonic masses are managed impeccably by the engineers. Acanthes alone provides ample justification for splashing out on this disc so let me reiterate – Andrea Tarrodi seems utterly incapable of producing duff or dull work. This is yet another jewel.

As it turns out Britta Byström’s Im Freien, for single violin and strings proves to be another winner. The title (translated as “to be free”) reflects the genesis of the piece during the pandemic and also nods towards the al fresco nature of much West African music, especially that which involves the kora whose influence is central to the piece. An African atmosphere is implied by the gesture Broman delivers at the concerto’s outset, and in the huge ‘drumbeat’ subsequently created by the orchestra. This initial melody is the recurring motif which binds the whole together. Im Freien seems to involve frequent alternation between solo and tutti passages, it has a relaxed, almost improvisational manner which recalls jazz (a reference made in Jarkko Hartikainen’s note) – essentially there is strong sense of communal groove throughout Byström’s score, whether the material is slow or fast, quiet or loud. The slides that connect tones are also redolent of African music, as is the frequent and imaginative application of pizzicato which effortlessly evokes the kora. There’s a spectacularly grimy solo effect from 8:18 which is rather startling. Slower interludes are skilfully worked into a structure which some listeners might describe as episodic, even rhapsodic, yet still somehow seems impressively seamless, Freien in fact. Brief explosions of graceful, untrammelled melody intervene throughout the work with delicious regularity. Byström’s level of invention never wanes. The concerto is danceable, toe-tapping, accessible and effortlessly memorable. Malin Broman and the OCO have clearly taken it to their heart. As with the Tarrodi, it’s hard to imagine cleaner, more alluring sonics.

So impressive are these two concertos that the two works for strings alone unfortunately end up suffering a little by comparison, to my ears at least, although both are unquestionably scored (and performed) with skill and terrific verve.

Mats Larsson Gothe’s Lied von der Erde kicks off with repeated iterations of a gruff, unison stabbed G in the strings, a gesture which recurs intermittently as a leitmotif. Jarkko Hartikainen alludes to both Stravinsky and Donatoni in his introduction, but it’s the Bartok of the more assertive bits Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta which swiftly come to mind, as well as the dark hues of Honegger’s wartime Symphony No 2. Whilst there is momentum, even venom in this piece repeated hearings reinforce my view that neither the undoubted technical excellence of its structure nor its rhythmic urgency ultimately prevent it from making a rather generic impact. Its most interesting episode occurs at its centre, a massive contraction which incorporates some eerie, lonely textures before its pulse cranks up to reiterate the feeling of vigour, urgency and possibly violence heard at its opening. Larsson Gothe could not hope for better advocacy than that provided by the Ostrobothnians. Their performance is exceptional.

Concluding the programme is a brief work by Sauli Zinovjev who is memorably described in the note as “…originally a skater and a rocker who played the electric guitar. [His] life changed when he saw a video…of Cziffra playing Liszt.” Listeners might detect some elements of this pen-portrait in Recharged, six minutes of virile string pulsing which circles and ricochets around one’s listening room like an unhinged moto perpetuo. A synthesis of forceful, rhythmic repetitions and more tentative connecting threads, Zinovjev has fashioned a piece which is both exciting and assertive, a string orchestral showpiece with edgy rock stylings. It occupies similar terrain to Erkki-Sven Tüür’s splendid Insula Deserta, although despite its appealing rhythmic propulsiveness, Recharged lacks Zinovjev’s Estonian counterpart’s earworm memorability.

Alba’s production values for this issue are exceptional. The recorded sound in my view represents a gold standard for string orchestral sound. Documentation and product design are first class. I heartily encourage listeners of all shapes, sizes, tastes and enthusiasms to acquire this disc in real or virtual form. The two concertos will bring lasting rewards and are well worth the outlay in their own right.

Richard Hanlon

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Previous review: David McDade (February 2024)