Music and Vision homepage

Record Box

Imaginative variety

TREVOR HOLD's reaction to Kilpinen's songs

cpo    999 575-2

Yrjö Kilpinen - Kanteletar-Lauluja Op 100 (c) 1999 CPO


'Yrjö Kilpinen: who he?' you may well ask. He was a Finn (born Helsinki in 1892, studied there and in Vienna and Berlin, dying in his native city in 1959) who devoted his composing career almost exclusively to songwriting. He composed some 700 songs, which makes him one of the most prolific song composers since Schubert. The texts that he set were usually in German or Finnish.

His musical language is spare in style, its melodies and harmonies based on old church modes and the pentatonic scales of Finnish folk-music. It has an austerity akin to that of his great compatriot, Sibelius; his nearest British equivalents would be Holst and Rubbra, with whom he shares a penchant for intervals of the semitone, perfect 4th and perfect 5th. The overall effect, however, is perhaps closer to the folk-song arrangements of Bartók and Kodály, not surprising considering the kinship of the Finnish and Hungarian languages.

Kanteletar-Lauluja is a massive song-book of 64 songs written late in Kilpinen's career (1953-4), setting poems from an ancient collection of folk-poetry written in Old Finnish, the Kanteletar.

Kilpinen himself arranged the songs in groups (songs of mourning, shepherd's songs, dance songs, etc) but the 26 selected for this recording have been reordered to give maximum variety and dramatic effect. Voice and piano are kept distinct, their roles contrasting rather than blending. The vocal lines are simple and folk-like, the piano accompaniments full of drones and ostinatos, where the composer is clearly evoking the sounds of Finnish folk instruments such as the kantele, a bowed zither. On first hearing, there seems to be a sameness of texture and harmony, but closer acquaintance reveals an imaginative variety of ideas. Even so, don't expect anything wildly intoxicating: rather a glass of cool spring water. The following extracts will give a flavour of the songs: Always I sing, poor little girl [listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:00] with its Gurney-like opening, and the folk-song simplicity of When I was twenty years old [listen -- track 9, 0:00-0:45].

The programme is divided between two accomplished young Finnish singers, the soprano, Camilla Nylund, and the baritone, Hans Lydman, with Peter Stamm as the experienced accompanist. All three are persuasive advocates of Kilpinen's music. The accompanying booklet has informative background notes and good English translations.


Copyright © 2 May 2001 Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK







 << Music & Vision home      Recent reviews       Kovacevich plays Beethoven >>

Download a free realplayer 

For help listening to the sound extracts here,
please refer to our questions & answers page.

Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews