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CD Review: Veikko Ahvenainen

Veikko Ahvenainen, accordion
with the Kouvola City Orchestra,
conducted by Kalervo Kulmala

Finnish Dance No. 1
Autumn Suite, (V. Ahvenainen, solo acc.)

Finland Calling
Karelian Pictures, (V. Ahvenainen, solo acc.)
Concert Waltz

Playing time: 58:24
Released: 1988

Label: Scandia SCD 3

Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

There is something in the character of Finnish concert music that echoes the northern climate of its homeland. One can hear it in Sibelius, and it is unmistakably a component of music composed by Finnish concert accordionist, Veikko Ahvenainen. It possesses a tranquillity and clarity, a kind of natural purity that also seems to underline Nordic panoramas and bucolic scenes. While often reflective and introspective, Ahvenainen's compositions are not particularly challenging to the listener; those recorded here are either dance-like or programmatic in nature, i.e., descriptive of scenes and events. However, it would be quite wrong to dismiss them as simple pleasantries or sophisticated easy-listening music!

At first listening, I liked what I heard but felt at a loss to put my finger on the distinguishing characteristics of this music. After several more playings, I realized the compositional effects were subtle ones. I was looking to be wowed and flattered and Veikko Ahvenainen prefers to woo and intimate with his music. There is much skillful poetry here, deceptively simple and direct.

As a composer Ahvenainen owes much to both Tschaikovsky and Sibelius, their stylistic influences can be felt in nearly every composition. His own style might best be described as bridging the Romantic and Post-Romantic. The lilting, sweeping Concert Waltz and ballet-like dance tempos of several other pieces definitely bow to the Russian melodist while his miniature tone poems owe their cast to Finland's most famous composer. Though this be true, Ahvenainen is no mere copyist! The inspiration, the heart and soul of each piece is clearly that of Ahvenainen. In these post-modern days of angular and mind-stretching compositions, finding contemporary concert music that is both accessible and instantly comprehensible is refreshing.

On Finland Calling, this well-known accordionist can take bows both as composer and instrumentalist. He appears as soloist in two of his suites of orchestral program music, Autumn Suite and Karelian Pictures; the latter is my particular favorite on this album. His solo in the "Autumn Moods" movement of Pictures displays to telling effect the depth of sound of his magnificent Volkovich bayan, the only such instrument known outside of Russia.

The Kouvola City Orchestra and conductor Kalervo Kulmala do an excellent job with this music, as have the recording engineers. My only observation concerning quality of sound is that the bass is occasionally too big and roomy and affects the over sense of balance.

Details, alas, are missing from the simple folded leaflet accompanying this CD; it contains only the briefest biographies of both Ahvenainen and Kulmala in both Finnish and English. The orchestra sounds much larger than the small group whose pictures appears in the brochure, but if the youthful faces shown are indeed those of the Kouvola City Orchestra, then my hat is off to their talent and musicianship. This record contains some well-crafted, eminently listenable and enjoyable music, a credit to both composer and performers.

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