Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why was I not told about Uuno Klami?

I've been listening to the music of Finland's Uuno Klami (1900-1961) for the first time, specifically a selection of 5 pieces recorded for Ondine by Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, downloaded as part of my recent "get a whole bunch of cheap stuff I don't know" campaign. I suppose I could blame myself for the fact that I'd never heard Klami's music before, but it's more fun to blame society instead. After all, it's not as if there are new Klami albums coming out every month... he only gets half a page in my 1980 Grove... what the hell is wrong with you people?
Actually there is a new Ondine recording out, which I shall have to get. David Hurwitz reviewed it on Classics Today, saying Klami's music is "characterized by superb craftsmanship, glittering orchestration, and melodies that sound like you might have heard them before but can't remember where", which I agree with on my limited listening experience. Yes, you can hear Sibelius in there somewhere (would it be any other way for a Finnish composer inspired by the Kalevala?) but I also detected some early Stravinsky in there and, somewhat puzzlingly, Ravel. Grove reveals that Klami studied with Ravel, and indeed a quick skim through various online reviews shows that it's standard operating procedure to call Klami "the Finnish Ravel", as Hurwitz does.
Of the 5 things I listened to, the Karelian Rhapsody of 1927 is the stand-out. It's got a sort of bipolar nature to it, spending a lot of its time in northern gloom but every so often bursting out in rustic giddiness. As for melodies I might have heard before, I got "The loveliest night of the year" and "From the halls of Montezuma". Go figure. Another work on this album is In the Belly of Vipunen, with baritone and chorus, which (I presume) recounts an episode from the Kalevala in which Väinämöinen is swallowed by the giant Vipunen, builds a forge in his stomach, and generally makes a nuisance of himself until Vipunen reveals a secret incantation.
I admit I'm kinda proud of myself for spotting Klami's influences all by myself on first listen. Look at this: Gramophone - "He preferred Ravel and Stravinsky as stylistic godfathers"; MusicWeb - "Klami drank deep draughts of the Finnish nationalist essence but later mixed it with the voices of Gallic impressionism and Stravinskian energy from his studies in Paris"; Gramophone again - Klami "escaped the overbearing dominance of Sibelius's style only to "fall for the intoxicating draughts of Ravel, early Stravinsky and Florent Schmitt"". Draughts galore!

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