MADETOJA:  Okon Fuoko, Op. 58 (An Orchestral Suite).  Symphonic Suite for Orchestra, Op. 4.  Barcarola, Op. 67 No. 2
Oulu Symphony Orch; Arvo Volmer, cond.

ALBA ABCD 156 (F) (DDD) TT:  52:04
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The cover title from the Finnish firm of Alba does not belong to any of the music herein. It comes instead from a 1911 letter the composer wrote to the poet Onerva, whom he married two years later. "Beauty is the source of my happiness and I find the most powerful beauty in the movement of my soul in the boundless space, in the infinity of fantasy. There, you are my only companion...so much like me...and that is why I love you so abundantly. Oh blessed Onerva...I kiss you my dear friend, the only star in the night of my life."

Madetoja (1887-1947) lived within the lifespan of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), who was one of his teachers along with the ubiquitous Arnas J”rnefelt. Two years followed in Paris with Vincent d'Indy (1910-11), and then with Robert Fuchs in Vienna (1912-14). None of these are notably influential, however, in the three engaging works on this disc: a 6-movement suite from Madetoja's music for a Danish ballet pantomime—about a Japanese puppet-master, Okon Fuoco, premiered at the Finnish Opera in 1930. (Madetoja had planned two more suites but they never eventuated). It is already his Op. 58, and suggestive of Nielsen's music for Aladdin in spirit, although these works have vastly different ethnic subjects. Orchestration is fanciful even when the music lacks an individual personality; the concluding "Danse grotesque,"cunningly prepared for throughout, is altogether effective when it comes.

Symphonic Suite for Orchestra, an early work (1910) in four movements, is the longest work on this disc: 33:26. The opening "Elegia" and succeeding "Notturno" remind one of mature Grieg, although Madetoja was a superior orchestrator. However, the third movement, "Pastorale: Salolla (In the Wild)" is a virtual duet between English and French horns, dramatic rather than bucolic—the annotator says it "foreshadows the slow movements of the symphonies," enough to make me want to know all three, composed between 1915 and 1926. The finale begins with a timpani solo and is suitably sprightly—early music, unmistakably Romantic is syntax but worth an adventurer's investigation. The Barcarolla, Op. 67 No. 2, has Ostrobothnian folk-music roots that make it a charmingly tranquil encore.

Oulu, where this disc originated, is one of Europe's Northernmost cities, at the upper end of the Bothnian Gulf separating Sweden and Finland—a place of sunless days every winter. The current orchestra traces its beginnings to 1937; past conductors have included Okko Kamu. It currently has 53 players, and since 1983 has performed in the "acoustically splendid Madetoja Hall" in Oulu's Music Center. The current conductor, Arvo Volmer, a musician of mettle and a disciplinarian, serves the composer with distinction. This music was recorded in May 2000, and again a Finnish production team, working under producer Kimma Pihlajama, proves itself a peer among Europe's engineering elite.

R.D. (February 2002)