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ClassicsOnline Home » NIEMINEN, K.: Palomar / Clarinet Concerto, "Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices" / Vicoli in ombra (Gallois, Raasakka, Sinfonia Finlandia)
The music of Finnish composer Kai Nieminen does not conform to any “isms”. He remarks:
“I feel like I am a painter in music, who having seen or experienced something attempts to give
that something a shape in music.” The flute concerto Palomar was written for Patrick Gallois,
soloist and conductor on this disc. The clarinet concerto Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient
Voices was inspired by the Italian Antonio Tabucchi’s novel Notturno indiano. In Vicoli in ombra
we meander through the misty alleys of Rome, encountering strangers.
By David Denton
Kai Nieminen (b. 1953): Palomar, Nel giardino fantastico (Flute Concerto)
Through Shadows I Can Hear Ancient Voices (Clarinet Concerto) • Vicoli in ombra
Kai Nieminen’s Flute Concerto: Palomar, In the
Enchanted Garden introduces enchanting melodies
woven into a modern idiom. The timbral ambience is
lyrically impressionistic, but the work also has darker,
mysterious hues. The flute is a highly adaptable soloist,
at times a whispering breath on a starry sky, at others an
arctic bird soaring above a winter landscape, taking
startled flight on spotting a human figure.
The structure of the one-movement concerto relies
on a recurring motif that, in undergoing transformation,
generates new musical moods. The opening Andante
misterioso is marked by a tender dialogue between the
flute and harp supplemented by such percussion
instruments as glockenspiel and a vibraphone. The
texture is transparent, crystal-clear and sparkling
throughout, and more in the nature of intimate chamber
music, for the orchestration allows the various
instruments to express their intrinsic characteristics and
timbres. Nieminen in fact regards the concerto more as a
symphony of character types and himself as a tone
painter of fantasies from the life around him.
The idea for his Flute Concerto came to Nieminen
at the Villa Lante in Rome when he was kept awake by
persistent birdsong in the heat of the night. The title
alludes to the last novel, Palomar, by Italo Calvino.
Though Nieminen finds inspiration in literature, the
visual arts and nature, he has no desire to confine the
listener to any programme. The aim of the extra-musical
stimuli is at most to fire his listeners’ imagination and to
make them savour musical visions with a mind as open
as that of Calvino’s Mr Palomar examining the little
wonders of the world around him.
Nieminen composed his Flute Concerto for Patrick
Gallois, who gave the première and conducted it at the
Teatro dal Verme in Milan on 15 November 2001
with I Pomeriggi Musicali. Palomar received its Finnish
première in Jyväskylä in 2003.
The Clarinet Concerto: Through Shadows I Can
Hear Ancient Voices…immerses the listener in the
dream-like world of Nieminen’s musical legends. From
the very first bars the soloist is like a snake-charmer
hypnotising all around. Again the inspiration for this
work lies in literature: the novel Indian Nocturne by the
Italian Antonio Tabucchi, the narrative of which wavers
between real life and an imaginary world to create
moods that cannot be logically interpreted. The book
alludes to flashbacks to a previous life and, inspired by
Tabucchi, Nieminen plays with musical déjà-vu
experiences: a motif heard earlier in the work may, even
in transformation, still be recognisable.
Nieminen’s interest in cultural and temporal planes
is manifest in his ability to link the past with the present.
In the first movement the tear motif borrowed from the
Baroque finds multiphonic expression on the clarinet.
This trill was the result of close collaboration with the
soloist, Mikko Raasakka, and reflects Nieminen’s
fascination both for new techniques and for early music
motifs. The opening movement ends with a wistful
Andante elegiaco passage in which the clarinet and bass
clarinet in the orchestra prepare the way for a choralelike,
melancholy melody for the soloist. The second, and
most lyrical of the movements sees the clarinet painting
figures over string harmonies while the percussion add
flashes of twinkling light to the texture. The orchestral
instruments are as “shadows” to the soloist while at the
same time they seek dialogue by suggesting topics that
are taken up by the clarinet. The concerto has two
cadenzas, the first of which is improvised alone by the
soloist and the second is a magical dialogue between the
clarinets and percussions. The finale is virtuosic and
impassioned, but the orchestral sound nevertheless
remains translucent throughout.
Each movement of the concerto has a poetic motto
taken from Tabucchi’s novel:
1. People who sleep badly always appear more or less
guilty. What do they do? They make night present.
2. The human body might well be regarded as only an
appearance. It hides our reality. It lies thick over our
light, or our shadow.
(Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea)
3. Blind, Science is working the useless ground.
Mad, Faith is living the dream of its cult.
A new God is a word—or the mere sound.
Don’t seek and don’t believe: all is occult.
(Fernando Pessoa, trans. J. Griffin)
The Clarinet Concerto is dedicated to Mikko Raasakka,
and was given its first performance in October 2002 by
Vaasa City Orchestra under Hannu Norjanen.
Nieminen’s first work for orchestra, Vicoli in ombra
(Alleys in Twilight), looks ahead to the world of Palomar
and was likewise born in Rome. The orchestral writing is
again limpid and airy and the music exudes a sense of
serenity, calm and enjoyment of the mood of the
moment. Nieminen has a gift for building with fantasy,
yet his works always have a clear musical structure.
Vicoli in ombra is like a journey into the shady labyrinth
of the mind, as symbolised by the Trastevere alleys in
Rome. They wind and intersect, like the Vicolo del
cinque branching in five directions, but lead the traveller
back to familiar scenes that nevertheless look different
when seen with new eyes and from a novel perspective.
The work begins with an ostinato-like “walking
motif” on the double bass, posing as the carefree
observer. Wandering down an alley, he first encounters
shady characters in the form of ludicrous, limping
bassoons, then feminine woodwinds haughtily swinging
along. The alley is at times thronged with people, at
others they echo, deserted. About half way along the
trumpet announces the main theme, and as the texture
grows denser, the strings assume a different rôle and
introduce more dissonance. In speaking of the form of the
piece, Nieminen refers to Pablo Casals who, when asked
what music was, replied: I always try to catch rainbows.
Vicoli in ombra was a commission from the
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, which gave the première
in 1995 with Ari Rasilainen conducting.
English version: Susan Sinisalo
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