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25.VIII.2014. Helsinki, Helsinki Music Center. Pehr Henrik Nordgren (1944-2008): Sonata for Solo Violin op. 104. Joonas Kokkonen (1921-1996): Improvvisazione. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): 24 Preludes op. 34 (arr. Tsyganov), Nos. 16, 10, 24, and 6. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004. Kalevi Aho (b. 1949): In Memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren. Anna-Leena Matero-Karppinen piano, Elisa Rusi-Matero, violin.
One of reasons why classical music continues to thrive in Finland is due to the steady stream of extraordinarily talented musicians trained at the Sibelius Academy. The Summer Young Talent Series provides these musicians a public forum for their artistry, which is particularly welcome during the relatively quiet Helsinki summer concert season. On this occasion the violinist Elisa Rusi-Matero presented a varied program of mostly 20th and 21st century works.
The program began with Nordgren’s Sonata for Solo Violin. Consistent with the composer’s often tragic aesthetic, the work opens with an introverted lament of quiet intensity. The presence of quarter tones increased the sense of tension. The music moves through meandering and inquisitive states before arriving at an animated section of greater intensity and dissonance.
The gray and austere opening to Kokkonen’s Improvvisazione for violin and piano reminded one of late Shostakovich. The music soon develops a sense of liveliness, like a flowing stream. A central machine-like section imparts a jazzy feel, while the conclusion on a sudden E major was a surprising burst of joy.
The appearance of Shostakovich on this program was entirely appropriate, as shadows of the Russian master occasionally appear in the music of both Nordgren and Aho. At least for the selections presented this evening, the 24 Preludes is also very effective in a violin-piano arrangement. Rusi-Matero seemed to focus on the jauntier movements, including the quasi-Prokofiev in No. 16 and the cheeky parlor music of No. 24.
The Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 is perhaps the Mount Everest of the solo violin repertoire. At approximately 15 minutes, the Chaconne is lengthier than the other movements of the partita combined. How Bach managed to create this spiritual and emotional monument derived from a simple bass line is testament to his genius.
Aho’s In Memoriam Pehr Hendrik Nordgren opens with a declamatory gesture, perhaps a call to prayer. The melismatic feel of the musical argument is consistent with the composer’s current style, which is often inspired by non-Western musical traditions. While one does not necessarily get the impression of grief or loss in this work, a sense of anguish is nevertheless palpably present.
Rusi-Matero seemed particular confident in the 20th and 21st century works. Her focused and warm tone gave a soft glow to the opening lament of the Nordgren, while her sweetly lyrical playing was appropriate for the somewhat saccharine melodies found in the Shostakovich. Aho’s work occasionally featured stratospherically high registers, which Rusi-Matero handled securely. If anything, the Bach appeared to pose the greatest challenge, with Rusi-Matero’s intonation occasionally faltering during the seemingly endless mazes of multiple stops.
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