Lotta Wennäkoski (b. 1970)
Sigla – Harp and Orchestra (2022)
Sivan Magen (harp), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
rec. 2021/22, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland
Ondine ODE1420-2 
Flounce was a commission for the 2017 Last Night of the Proms. As is often the case, the composition had to meet several requirements – mainly that its length should not exceed five minutes. Lotta Wennäkoski delivered a short, brilliant and somewhat tongue-in-cheek Scherzo, full of drive and instrumental imagination. The music fizzes along, pauses briefly to catch breath, and then rushes headlong towards its bright, assertive conclusion. Flounce is a splendid display of catching, and at times subtle, orchestral textures. It may well be viewed as “Wennäkoski in a nutshell”.
The titles of Wennäkoski’s works often carry meaning which may to a certain extent hint at what the music is about. But, and this is a big but, her music is never programmatic or descriptive. This certainly applies to her Harp Concerto Sigla. It was commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and dedicated to the present soloist Sivan Magen, with whom the composer collaborated closely. The title may mean a few things – a jingle in Italian, sailing in Icelandic, and vivaciousness or enthusiasm in Tagalog (spoken in the Philippines) – but the music does not set out to describe or “paint” any of these meanings.
The first movement begins almost tentatively before the music gets more impetus and engages in a close-knit dialogue between soloist and orchestra. The music is also full of what one may come to regard as Wennäkoski’s hallmarks, for example some tonal ambiguity by means of glissandi and slurred notes. The second movement provides for some contrast to the animated manner of the preceding one; the music is considerably more fragile and subtle. The third movement is again sharply contrasting: playful, extrovert and full of rhythmic energy. After a brief slower section, the music catches fire again for the final rush. It is no easy task to compose a harp concerto if one is to avoid all the tricks of the trade. Contemporary composers now often take a somewhat more innovative approach to the instrument, to its expressive and technical potential. As far as I am concerned, Lotta Wennäkoski is brilliantly successful. One can but hope that other harpists will find her concerto well worth the effort. It is a splendid work by any count.
The third piece also has a somewhat puzzling title. Sedecim (sixteen in Latin) refers to the year 1916. The work was commissioned by the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra for its centenary. The three movements or rather panels that make up the piece relate to that year, although one has to be made aware of it. The first panel’s subtitle, Tigerfläckar, spända strängar, stjärnor utan svindel (E.S. 1916) (Tiger spots, taut strings, stars without vertigo), is the last line of a poem by Swedish poet Edith Södergran in her 1916 debut collection Dikter. The music begins on the threshold of silence, and soon blossoms into a fantasy of shifting colours and lights. Booklet essay writer Kimmo Korhonen says: “The orchestral texture is rich, translucently lyrical and scintillating.”
The next movement, Zone rouge (1916-), opens with an ominous big bang but later unfolds in utter bleakness. The subtitle refers to the First World War. Red zones are areas in north-eastern France that have been lastingly contaminated – just think of the battle of Verdun. The final movement, Melartin 1916, refers to the Finnish composer Erkki Melartin, whose oeuvre includes six imposing symphonies. The Fifth was written in 1914-1915 and premièred in 1916. Wennaköski draws on its slow movement, according to the excellent, informative booklet. I for one was unable to spot the origin of the theme on which she based the third panel of her orchestral triptych, but such lack of awareness is unlikely to spoil one’s enjoyment of the music. Sedecim is a strongly gripping piece of music which generously repays repeated hearing.
This release is a most welcome and truly adequate sequel to Ondine’s earlier all-Wennäkoski disc (review). Here is a composer with imagination and a strong ability to move, captivate and impress. This fine disc is well up to Ondine’s best standards. Warmly recommended.
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