May 2007

Aho - Tuba Concerto; Contrabassoon Concerto
Øystein Baadsvik (tuba), Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Mats Rondin cond.; Lewis Lipnick (contrabassoon), Bergen Philharmonic, Andrew Litton cond.
BIS CD-1574
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Jean Sibelius, whose imposing figure personifies Finland to the world, left to his latter-day compatriots a legacy defined most of all, perhaps, by what we used to call "rugged individualism." Every significant composer active in that incredibly musical country since Sibelius’s time seems to have found his or her own voice, and none has been more remarkable in this respect than Kalevi Aho. Now 58, Aho moves with awesome ease from strength to strength, constructing operas, symphonies (13 of these now) and concertos for both expected and, as in the present instance, rather unexpected instruments. The Tuba Concerto, composed a half-dozen years ago for the renowned master of that instrument, Øystein Baadsvik, is stunning enough in its own right, but the one for the still more improbable contrabassoon may well be Aho’s most remarkable work to date in any form.

It was commissioned by Lewis Lipnick, the contrabassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, out of his own pocket, in a fit of enthusiasm after taking part in performances of Aho’s concerto-like Ninth Symphony, with the phenomenal trombonist Christian Lindberg as soloist and Osmo Vänskä conducting. Because Aho demanded notes a contrabassoon had never produced before, Lipnick had to get himself the new Fox-Fast instrument that adds an octave to the top of the range (fewer than a dozen of these in existence so far). This 35-minute score is filled with the kinds of challenges Aho likes to create for his soloists, his orchestra, and himself, and its almost terrifying excitement doesn’t fade. Lipnick has the chops, and Andrew Litton has his Bergen troops really pumped.

BIS has come through, in these live recordings of the respective premieres, with the wide-open, knockout realism that brings both works to us with the most joyfully overwhelming impact.