Robert Kajanus (1856–1933) is likely to be known primarily as a conductor rather than as a composer. He thus joins a list of other illustrious maestros whose conducting careers eclipsed their creative activities. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Jean Martinon, Paul Kletzki, Antal Dorati, and currently Esa-Pekka Salonen are just a few of the names that come to mind. Kajanus is recognized today chiefly as one of the early champions of Sibelius, and his recordings of most of Sibelius’s symphonies, though a bit hard to come by, can still be had.
It was inevitable, after the mega-success of Tubular Bells in its original form, that someone would orchestrate the piece - the many and varied instrumental voices of the original virtually begged for this treatment, especially as the original album appeared at the height of the progressive rock boom, when even self-contained rock bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer were starting to turn toward orchestral accompaniment in their quest for richer sounds. In this case, it was composer Mike Oldfield himself who oversaw and co-produced the work with orchestrator and collaborator David Bedford, a longtime friend and colleague…
Completed in the spring of 1893, Järnefelt’s Serenade was composed in Paris, and the French influence – especially that of his teacher Massenet – can be clearly heard. Two years later, in the Symphonic Fantasy, composed after a momentous visit to Bayreuth, the influences are rather Wagnerian, and especially obvious in the central slow section with its clear reminiscences of Parsifal. The programme closes with Berceuse for violin and orchestra. The piece is a beautifully atmospheric miniature which has found a place in concerts of lighter music all over the world.
Anu Komsi, Finland’s ‘coloratura assoluta’, here presents a wide-ranging programme, from mad scenes and rage arias from 18th- and 19th-century operas, to Alyabyev’s ever-soaring Nightingale and the silvery tinkling of Lakmé’s Bell Song. Komsi also performs later examples of coloratura, including Glière’s glittering Concerto for coloratura and orchestra, and La Machine de l’être by the composer John Zorn – a work which she premiered in New York City in 2011.
During this 150th anniversary year of Jean Sibelius, his music is being performed and discussed more widely than ever. As might be expected, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, noted for its numerous and often revelatory Sibelius recordings, is planning its own homage: all seven symphonies will be performed at the 2015 edition of the orchestra’s annual Sibelius Festival. With principal conductor Okko Kamu the Lahti SO has also prepared a special birthday present for their great compatriot. Recorded between 2012 and 2014 this new anniversary cycle is released as a boxed set of three SACDs with a surround sound option, and is accompanied by an ample booklet with informative notes by Andrew Barnett, author of a Sibelius biography.
Ilkka Kuusisto began his career as a jazz pianist at the age of 15, and has since been active in a number of fields, including the theatre, as an organist, a choral conductor and as chief executive of the Finnish National Opera. As a composer he is highly eclectic. Having composed several operas, Kuusisto was invited by the conductor Osmo Vänskä to write a symphony for the Lahti Symphony Orchestra – a work which opens this disc.