Kaveli Aho chamber music distill composer’s essence

Finnish composer is best known for his large-scale orchestral compositions. And that, to me, made this release of chamber music all the more interesting. What happens when an artist who’s used to creating massive soundscapes with a host of timbres is reduced to a few instruments?
For the best composers (like Aho), the process simply distills their creativity into a potent concentrate.
What impressed me most about these works was the apparent change in harmonic aesthetics. Densely-layered harmonies were replaced by sparse — yet still complex — chords.
One of the most obvious examples is the 2016 Piano Sonata No. 2 “Hommage á Beethoven.” Aho starts with themes from the “Hammerklavier” sonata. The motifs are deconstructed and transformed, at times approaching the density of Aho’s orchestral writing.
The work requires a great deal of virtuosity and Sonja Fräki delivers. Her doctorial dissertation was on Aho’s piano music, and he composed this work for her. In her playing, I heard the perfect blend of composer intent and performer understanding. It’s a standout.
 Aho is both a skilled violinist and pianist. His works for solo violin require much from the performer. Jaako Kuusito performs with assuredness and empathy.
“In memoriam, Pehr Henrick Noodgern” is suitably elegiac. The Violin Sonata is inspired by Bach, and Kuusito shifts his performance style accordingly. His playing both evokes the past while remaining true to Aho’s contemporary writing.
Also included are other works, such as the Prelude, Toccata, and Postlude for cello and piano. Samuili Peltronen digs right into the meaty cello part, seemingly relishing its many challenges (and delivering some darned fine music-making in the process).
Whether you’re familiar with Aho’s orchestral compositions or reading about the composer for the first time, this is a release worth exploring.

Kalevi Aho: Chamber Music 
Samuli Peltonen, cello; Sonjha Fräki, piano; Jaakko Kuusisto, Pekka Kuusisto, violin 

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