Review of the CD "Piano Music from Finland"

A Finnish Musical Tour with Craig Randal Johnson, Pianist

In the New World Finn, January 2003, by Tracey Gibbens

" Finnish-American Pianist Craig Randal Johnson has put together a triumphant disc that will attract the casual and more serious listeners alike. Calling this disc 'A Finnish Musical Tour,' Johnson works his way through an airy program that displays the great variety of Finnish pianistic thought from the last 100 years. Though several of the selections will be familiar to those with a nodding acquaintance of Finnish music, there are also little heard gems that will be a pleasant revelation to the curious.

Pelimanit (The Fiddlers) Op. 1 provides us a glimpse of an early work by Einojuhani Rautavaara, who would become the dean of Finnish composition of the late 20th century. Written in 1953, it draws on tunes found in the notebook of 18th century Ostrobothnian folk fiddler Samuel Rinda- Nickola. Each of six parts describes a scene from past folklife. Though the pianistic writing brings to mind Debussy and Poulenc, the individualistic expression is totally and wonderfully Rautavaara.

Several selections by Finnish Romantic composers may be familiar. Sibelius is represented here by Kuusi (The Spruce), and the Romance in D-flat, and his brother-in-law Armas Järnfelt (1869- 1958) by the hauntingly beautiful Berceuse. Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) was of the generation following Sibelius, and his Vanha Muisto (An Old Memory) and Berceuse are also prime examples of Finnish Romanticism, as is Kevätyö (May Night) by Selim Palmgren(1878-1951).

A major work and a delightful surprise is found in Surullinen Puutarha (The Melancholy Garden), Op. 52, by Erkki Melartin (1875-1937). Though he did not achieve fame outside Finland, he was a pioneering spirit in Finland. As director of the Helsinki Academy, he directed the earliest performances of the music of Mahler in the Nordic countries, and assimilated the style of the French Impressionists in his own music. The Melancholy Garden is impressionistic in style, and in five movements spanning almost 25 minutes Melartin demonstrates a unique musical voice. With the date of composition shortly after 1900, when impressionistic pianism was in a very early state, this is all the more impressive!

Matti Tuhkala (1919-2002) was a well-known personage in folk music circles and a regular participant on violin and kantele at the annual folk festival in Kaustinen. His Romanssi Kanteleelle, (Romance Fantasy) is evocative and unpretentious, and receives its premier recording here. 

© Craig Randal Johnson 2016