Three Facets of Kaveli Aho

In some ways, this release is a study in contrasts. It shows three contrasting forms of Aho’s creativity. There’s a work for soloist and orchestra, and one for soloist and string quartet. Plus there’s a collaboration with an earlier composer.

The Concerto for Guitar and Chamber Orchestra was completed in 2018. Aho wrote the work for Ismo Eskelinen, who performs it here. Aho had collaborated with Eskelinen before. 

Aho is best known as a symphonist, and this work is symphonic in scope. His demands on the guitarist push technique to — and perhaps a little beyond — its limits. 

No matter. Eskelinen knows Aho as well as the composer knows the performer. He easily navigates the music and renders an exciting performance in the process.

The Quintet for Horn and String Quartet was written a year later. And yet, to me, it seems an earlier work. Aho studied with Einojuhani Rautavaara. Several string passages reminded me of the older composer’s style. 

Ilkka Puputti commissioned the concerto and performed it on this release. As with Eskelinen, the horn player had worked with Aho before. So there’s a true collaboration between composer and performer. As with the guitar concerto, Aho demands a lot from the solo player. And Puputti delivers at every turn.  

Johann Sebastian Bach left the final fugue in “The Art of the Fugue” unfinished. Aho isn’t the first composer to complete it. But he’s one of the more skilled to do so. Aho manages to extend Bach’s ideas without slavishly adhering to them. It might not be a historically accurate rendition. But it is distinctive and shows Aho’s skill at counterpoint.

John Storgårds directs the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. This is their fifth recording of Aho’s music, so they know what they’re about. The orchestra has a nice, clean ensemble sound. It’s not a big sound, but it’s big enough for Aho’s music.  

Aho’s compositions don’t sound quite like anybody else’s. They’re complex and multi-layered, yet direct and appealing. 

Kaveli Aho: Guitar Concerto
Quintet for Horn and String Quartet
Bach/Aho: Contapunctus XIV for String Orchestra
Ismo Eskelinen, guitar; Ilkka Puputti, horn
Lapland Chamber Orchestra; John Storgårds, conductor

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