Site review by Geohominid July 18, 2009
Performance: Sonics (S/MC): /
|Fresh from his recent extraordinary recital on the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Rouen (Kalevi Kiviniemi: Cavaillé-Coll), Kalevi Kiviniemi now presents an innovative programme on a unique Finnish organ. The town of Seinäjoki is in South Ostrobothnia, and its Modernist town centre was designed by the well-known architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1972). Lakeuden Risti church ("Church of the Plain") was the core building of the project, and from the start in 1957 was intended to have a fine organ for concert as well as for religious use.
The Lakeuden Risti organ today is a 53-stop four-manual instrument by the Kangasala organ builders, and instead of being enclosed in a traditional casing, its pipework is integrated with the architecture of the church, being stunningly arrayed in geometric patterns across the organ gallery. The church acoustic was also carefully planned (modelled after Medieval cathedrals), and is regarded as the finest in Finland, giving the organ a full, rich sound with great focus of detail. The Germanic neoclassical constitution of the organ, aided by modern blowers and computer-based registration memories, allows its use for a wide range of organ music.
Kiviniemi has a flair for concocting unusual and interesting recital programmes, and the broadly Romantic nature of the pieces on this disc suites his temperament very well, allowing him to demonstrate much of the organ's character. The first group comprises three piano pieces by Liszt (himself a formidable organist). These are arranged (with considerable freedom in the case of the Concert Etude) by Kiviniemi himself. The undulating waves of arpeggios in the D flat major Etude are very effective, and Liszt's scintillating cadenzas are brilliantly executed. Liszt's short Consolation in D flat is suitably sweetly played on some lovely soft solo stops, providing a brief interlude before we are plunged into the wild Czárdás obstiné, with its flying ostinatos breathlessly chasing one another all over the organ's keys to reach a spectacular climax.
Kiviniemi's first love is late Romantic French music, which forms the next group. Fauré's lovely Danse lente, originally for piano, is played unaltered here, the second arrival of its melody enchanting on a solo stop in the tenor with delicate staccatos figures above. Franck's Chorale no. 3 in A minor begins with more than a nod to Bach's D minor Toccata, and Kiviniemi clearly outlines its structure, lifting the central Adagio with expressive nuancing of its blithely happy melody before launching the unsettling changing of harmonies which lead to the recapitulation.
Guilmant's Allegro maestoso et con fuoco fulminates and blazes with fiery reeds and spitting mixtures in a propulsive and thrilling reading, while Dupré's meditative Antiphon Op.18/3 glows with subtle colours, supported on pillars of deep bass flues with Kiviniemi's superb legato lines oozing above. Dupré's pupil Pierre Cochereau, often regarded as the organist's organist, supplies a Scherzo Symphonique based on an improvisation after a mass in 1974. Here, Kiviniemi displays his total control and virtuosity in glittering brilliance and sheer exuberance, rapidly changing registrations and letting the organ have its head with towering chords and dizzying scales. His comical throw-away ending to the Scherzo is simply unmissable.
The final group brings us home to Finland. Kiviniemi's own Fantasia 'Finland's Hymn', written to accompany a light-show, recalls the connection of the Finns to their environment and their struggle to build a Finnish Nation through "storm, battle and distress" (in Kiviniemi's own words). The storm and battle renditions, with staggering glissandi and other astonishing effects, are particularly impressive, as is the recall of Kuusisto's Hymn tune in triumph and majesty at the close. A signature piece of Finnish organ music from Merikanto, Passacaglia in F sharp minor, concludes the recital with more fireworks from the versatile Lakeuden Risti organ.
Without doubt, the sonics of this recital are impeccable and demonstration worthy - the Fantasia on Track 9 could well be used as an ultimate test of multichannel audio equipment. Mika Koivusalo's simple microphone placement has the listener well into the body of the church, with a perfect focus on the wide sound-stage given by the disposition of the pipes across the gallery. The clean acoustic of the building allows an amazing amount of detail from the essentially caseless organ to come through the huge dynamic range without confusing reflections. The synergy between organ and architecture is clearly audible as the volume rises and the space is excited. 'Full organ' sounds as though the listener is being immersed in the instrument itself and is most impressive, given the low noise floor. There is plenty of extended bass, with attack characteristics of the different pedal choruses being particularly noticeable. Playing this disc at high volume merely impresses the listener more and demonstrates the purity of the sound (but beware the neighbours).
Koivusalo's production is also excellent, with a cleanly designed booklet in English and Finnish, containing Kiviniemi's own lucid and scholarly notes on the music, a history of the organ and its specifications, together with Koivusalo's photographs of the church exterior and interior. This gives a unique sense of place for the recording venue.
A musical treat for organ-lovers, this release is a world away from the usual discs of "Organ Favourites", with Kiviniemi as usual communicating impressively and sonics which set the highest standards for organ recording. Please don't miss it!
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and SA-CD.net