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CD Review: Veikko Ahvenainen

The Studio Recordings in Helsinki

Veikko Ahvenainen, bayan


Antonio Vivaldi: Winter (Concerto in Fm, op. 8 no. 4)

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in Cm (K. II Longo 352)
Erkki Melartin: Idyll, op. 27, no. 1
Isaac Albinez: Asturias
Franz Schubert: Moment Musical in Fm, op. 94, no. 3
Gioacchino Rossini: Aria of Figaro
Stephen Foster: Beautiful Dreamer
Veikko Ahvenainen: Holiday for Bellows
Ahvenainen: Night on an Arctic Mountain
Ahvenainen: The Spinning Wheel
Ahvenainen: Suite for the Accordion Ahvenainen (arranger): Home on the Range (traditional American)
George de Godzinsky: The Nightingale
Pietro Frosini: The Operatic Rag
Ahvenainen (arranger): The Girls of Our Village (traditional Finnish folk tune)

Total Time: 71:54
Released in 1993
Review number and date: No. 46, April 1997

label: Accordia Record & Publishing Co. (ACD 222)
6048 Rockridge Road
Oakland, CA 94618

Fazer Music Inc.
Takomotie 3

tel: + 358 0 56011

Review by Henry Doktorski:

The Finnish concert bayan (button accordion) virtuoso Veikko Ahvenainen started his career as a soloist in the 1950s and has performed at concert halls such as the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also in concert halls in Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Donetsk and Novosibirsk. He has performed with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, the Tallin Philharmonic (Estonia), The Diablo Valley Philharmonic (California), Northern Michigan University Orchestra, in addition to orchestras in his own country such as the Finnish Radio Philharmonic, the Helsinki Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Turku, Pori, Lahti, Tampere, Oulu, Kouvola and Kuopio.

In 1962 Ahvenainen began concertizing in the Soviet Union on the invitation of the Ministry of Culture and since then has performed in the USSR more widely than any other Western accordionist. He has recorded more than fifty albums.

In 1978, after a solo recital in Moscow, he met Yuri Volkovich (1927-1981) -- the celebrated Soviet accordion designer and builder. Volkovich manufactured handmade concert instruments for the best Soviet accordionists; each instrument could take several years to complete. Like famous violin builders, Volkovich paid special attention to the tone quality of the instrument; his accordions have an unusually beautiful sound. The right and left hand manuals are well balanced in different registers (stops). Other characteristics are lightness, due to the choice of materials (titanium) as well as an innovative placement of the right-hand button-board which better reflected the anatomy of the hand than traditional accordions.

Volkovich built sixteen such instruments; the last one he gave to Ahvenainen. The master said a few months before his death, "This bayan is the best so far, as it has been made with warm heart to a good friend."

This CD features some of Ahvenainen's recordings -- of pieces in Baroque and Romantic style -- from 1983 to 1992, which displays the beauty of Volkovich's bayan and the artistry of Ahvenainen's technique and musicianship as performer, arranger and composer. The arrangements are resepectful of the composers intentions. In my opinion, the free-bass accordion is admirably suited for transcriptions of Baroque music; it can play pieces originally written for harpsichord (and most organ pieces) note for note.

Of the transcriptions on this CD, some deserve special mention. I particularly liked the Scarlatti; Ahvenainen's playing is clear and precise. The Schubert miniature Moment Musical is charming as is Ahvenainen's arrangment of Foster's Beautiful Dreamer which begins with a sustained dream-like introduction. His reversals of bellows are accomplished so smoothly that I could hardly hear them. In pieces like these one hears the bayan's kinship with the organ; in fact, the bayan in Ahvenainen's hands becomes more like a chamber organ than an accordion.

In my opinion, the best works on the album are the original compositions written for bayan. Some are light and entertaining such as Frosini's melodramatic Operatic Rag (reminicent of the age of vaudeville and silent movie houses) and Ahvenainen's Holiday for Bellows, and The Spinning Wheel. On the other hand, some of the original pieces are serious concert music such as the dramatic Girls of Our Village, Night on an Arctic Mountain and the Suite for Accordion all of which are based on romantic images of the Finnish countryside.

If I had to find something to complain about in this album, I would say that sometimes the extremely fast passages are not as clear as they could be in the Vivaldi Allegro and the Albeniz Asturias (one only needs to listen to the recording of Asturias by the Russian bayanist Friedrich Lips to hear the difference). In addition, occasionally the bellows changes sound awkward in the Vivaldi and the Rossini Aria.

Despite my criticisms, this album will be a favorite for classical acordion lovers and will do much to open the eyes of classical music lovers to the sophistication, beauty and nobility of the concert accordion.

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