CD Review: ZOLO--Finnish Works for Accordion
total time: 70:40
recorded: August 2003
review date: April 2006
Review by: Robert Stead
This recording presents a challenge for both performer and listener. Each piece requires both virtuoso playing and intensive listening. Matti Rantanen provides the virtuoso performance. It is up to the listener to unpack the presentation.
Einojuhani Rautavaara's Fiddler's "are free fantasies based on dances written down by Finnish 18th century fiddler, Samuel Rinda-Nickola" (from the CD Notes). The fantasies cover the gamut from majestic processional (which ends on a wonderfully discordant chord) through the introspective ( Kopsin Jonas: "in the strange light of the Nordic midsummer night Kopsin Jonas plays for the forest, for himself") and the playful. Each of these short pieces stretch the meaning of a dance. Pirun Polska is a somber piece--a piece dwelling in the shadows. Ironically (and I am sure co-incidentally) this piece about a melancholy devil has a phrase that brings to mind the spiritual "Let My People Go". The last fantasy, Hypyt is a raucous and riotous jumping dance. Fiddlers, op1 (as well as Rautavaara's Icons) were originally written for piano. Rantanen, through the encouragement of Rautavaara, arranged these pieces for accordion. He has done a superb job!
Hiding combines the dynamic and the static. The performer dynamically interacts with a pre-recording of his instrument. The sound from Rantanen's accordion are morphed by the tape to create rather bizarre effects. The piece uses the piccolo reeds extensively which gives it an ethereal feeling. A long section of short and playful bursts of notes (centered on major seconds) gives way to what sounds like a windstorm. The tension builds up to a clasp of thunder and then enters the sounds of nature.
The Hour of the Wolf is actually a reference to a dream state--the time of the night when our bodily functions are low and our sleep is the deepest. To quote the composer, Harri Vuori:
When I began composing this work, I tied to make a careful analysis of the features typical of and possible only on the accordion. I was soon fascinated by the instrument's capacity for rapid switches from one register to another, broad harmonies and for the arabesques exploiting leaps of giant intervals of which the accordion alone is capable (from the CD notes).
This piece taxes the ability of the accordion and the accordionist. It has an energy and drive that thrusts it forward. Like a dream from the depths come motifs that spin out and then disappear and then reappear transformed. This is the kind of composition that can be heard multiple times and each time something new can be discovered. Rantanen expertly negotiates the intricate meters, phrases, and bellow techniques that make this piece so exciting.
Jukka Tiensuu has said: "I do not write music because of a composer's perceived duty to add to the concert repertoire continuously. In our age, every single work has to have a specific reason for being created." (reference: http://www.counterinduction.com/bio.php?personID=000001) Perhaps the reason for Zolo was two-fold: to tax the limitations of the instrument and to pay tribute to the Russian composer Zolotaryov (whose name [or a least a portion of it] is found in the title). The work begins with bellow tremolos and these tremolos are sustained throughout the piece. Rantanen masterfully executes these tremolos as well as the pitch bending and long phrasing that makes this piece especially difficult.
Tapio Tuomela's Feux Follets plays with tone clusters to create sonic textures that take you to strange lands. The feux follets (will o' the wisps) are malevolent spirits who try to lead unsuspecting travelers off the safe path and into doom. Appropriately, the piece ends with a minor second in the upper register of the piccolo reeds. This final little cluster fades into nothingness. In Patches begins with a row played in the bass. This atonal row is the unifying element of a piece that could be considered "patched together". The CD notes mention that this is the only piece that Pehr Hernik Nordgren has written for the accordion.
This album begins with a work by Rautavaara set in the commons and ends with his Icons - a work set in the cathedral. Once again, Rantanen displays his skill as an arranger. This piece alternates between the dramatic and the ecstatic. The Death of the Mother of God, The Black Madonna of Blakernaya, and The Holy Woman at the Sepulchre are slow, somber pieces whose organ-like quality could fill a cathedral. Two Village Saints begins with a simple fast-paced melody which appears to "crash and burn" only be resurrected and restated. The Archangel Michael Fighting the Antichrist is fast, furious, and abruptly short. Apparently the battle doesn't last long. The Baptism of Christ combines both the ecstatic and the majestic. The piece begins with a flurry of notes and then settles into chorale-esque sequence. The last portion of The Baptism of Christ alternates between an ecstatic statement and a somber sequence.
I find this album fascinating. The accordion is an extremely versatile instrument. These pieces explore that versatility and Matti Rantanen does a superb job in bringing that versatility to life.