The horn concerto … is almost weightless, the horn riding bell-sounds from percussion, piano, celesta and harp in what seems a patchwork of extended lyrical melody and, eventually, mildly obstreperous dance-rhythms. A stunningly effective solo vehicle (and Esa Tapani is a valiantly confident soloist).
The Second Symphony, from 1972 – which was originally just called by what is now its subtitle, Symphonic Dialogue – is at least as much a percussion concerto as a true symphony. It illustrates very clearly that Sallinen has always been less a builder of walls than a maker of mosaics, placing blocks of material and disparate elements side by side in ways that certainly generate interest, and sometimes also direction and form. This manner of proceeding is almost ‘anti-symphonic’ in essence, and it may well be that Sallinen’s genius is essentially dramatic and expresses itself best in tableaux, as befits the phenomenally successful opera composer he has showed himself over the years.
No. 4 brings its contrasted elements into much sharper, more obviously meaningful conflict, engendering a genuine sense of symphonic momentum in the outer movements – the central slow movement, inscribed ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’, is essentially elegiac, and one of Sallinen’s most successful essays in sustained expression. And in both these works – as also in the Horn Concerto – there are unsettlingly ghostly moments, such as the spectral waltz that invades the latter stages of Symphony No. 2 with almost Mahlerian effect and yet entirely without Mahlerian character. Little ticking ostinatos, often starting on harp or celesta, can direct draughts of very cold air into what seems a comparatively easygoing discourse. Sallinen is in fact a less easy composer to know or gauge than the apparently fairly traditional surfaces of his music would indicate, and a collection like this one is very useful in reminding us of the complexities and awkwardness which seem part and parcel of his expression.
Given the combination of works, I’d be very happy with this CPO release – it makes a good introduction to Sallinen’s distinctive art.Calum MacDonald, International Record Review, 5/1/2006
…an exemplary conspectus of his way with the orchestra… the muscular angularity of the Second Symphony of 1972, the Symphonic Dialogue for percussion and orchestra, and the Fourth of seven years later, where his symphonic manner archetypically reconciles the humorous and the severe, and the more recent Horn Concerto, sparer, more gestural, but also more relaxed.Martin Anderson, Finnish Music Quarterly, 6/1/2006