KLAMI: Kalevala Suite / Sea Pictures (Jorma Panula/ Turku Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553757)
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No composer in the history of music could have had a more unusual start to life than Uuno Klami. He was born in 1900 in a remote part of Finland near to the Russian border. His parents were not musical, and in this part of the world there was no active musical life. Yet at elementary school he one day proudly announced he was going to be a composer. It was to be a difficult path to travel, his father dying when he was three, and his mother when he was sixteen. He had to leave school at fifteen, but somehow made his way to Helsinki where he alternately worked and studied at the Helsinki College of Music. It was to take him nine years to complete his studies there.
In the spring of 1924 he travelled to Paris and was fortunate enough to meet Ravel and Florent Schmitt, who helped and encouraged him. Still not content with his education he went to spend a year in Vienna. By now he was almost thirty, and though some of his student works had given optimism to his future, he still had to make a lasting impression on his Finnish audiences. That came with the Karelian Rhapsody, a work on Finnish themes. It was the first step in establishing himself as one of the major Finnish composers of the 20th century.
He composed in bold and often primitive colours, never afraid to court an easily accessible style. He was to write a considerable amount essentially using large forces, and his catalogue includes oratorios, concertos, tone poems, and orchestral suites.
Academically he was at last honoured when appointed the Composer of the Academy of Finland. Sadly he was to enjoy the appointment just two years before his sudden death.
His best known and most famous work is the Kalevala Suite composed in 1933, and coming shortly after the Karelian Rhapsody. It is based on the Finnish epic story that had tempted Sibelius - among others - to use it before him. It was in four quite extensive movements charting the story in graphic detail and ending with the pungent Forging of the Sampo. Ten years later he returned to the score, revised it, added a fifth movement, and it is this version, first performed in Helsinki in 1943, that is performed on this disc.
Klami was always fascinated by the sea from childhood, reflecting his upbringing on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. The six movement Sea Pictures was completed in 1932, the performance of the last movement in 1931 spurring him to complete the work. It is another graphic score, the title to each movement being pictured therein, the final section, 3 Bf, indicating the wind speed on the Beaufort Scale.
Lemminkainen's Adventures on the Island of Saari (the same person who crops up in Sibelius's Four Legends - soon to be released on Naxos), was originally intended for the Kalevala Suite, but its length disturbed the balance of the work, and Klami published it as a separate tone poem.
Suomenlinna is the name of the islands on the approach to Helsinki, which were fortified to protect the city. In Klami's stirring overture there is a strong patriotic feeling, in a work of strong colours.
In total the disc provides 20th century music that has immediate attractions and will be appreciated by those who enjoy the popular ballets of Stravinsky.
The Turku Philharmonic dates back to 1790. For some years it was an orchestra of modest dimensions, but now has 74 permanent musicians and serves the needs of a large part of Finland. Among its many eminent conductors, Jorma Panula was Principal Conductor for two seasons, 1963-65. He has since retained a very strong link with the orchestra.
The orchestra has toured many parts of the world, and has made a number of recordings for various labels, including the highly impressive recording of Sibelius's Kullervo Symphony, described in Classic CD as \a very fine performance".
For the past twenty years Panula has been Professor of Conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and since then almost every famous Scandinavian conductor, has been his pupil.