Hunka, Viljamaa, ICO/Kuusisto RDS, Dublin
Einojuhani Rautavaara– Pelimannit. Bach– Violin Concerto in E; Double Violin Concerto. Bartók– Divertimento for Strings
Finnish violin whiz Pekka Kuusisto’s latest appearance as director-soloist with the Irish Chamber Orchestra involved more than just a sexy juxtaposition of antithetical styles. It was a daring experiment in musical aesthetics.
Versatility is one thing, but for Kuusisto the real name of the game is eclecticism. Whether he’s premiering a contemporary concerto or revelling in his native fiddle tradition, you’d never suspect there might be more than one of him.
On this occasion, the most convincing aspect of his irresistible individualism revealed itself in the opening gambit, a fervent expounding of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Pelimannit suite (1952, orchestrated 1973) glossed with the original Finnish folk-dance tunes that are its source materials.
The composer’s gritty avant-garde treatments were vibrantly interspersed with Kuusisto’s naturally virtuosic fiddling and some fresh-flavoured accompaniments cooked up on harmonium by fellow Finn and tango hotshot Milla Viljamaa.
But purists beware. Next up was Bach’s Violin Concerto in E, and expectations that a harpsichord would arrive on the platform proved unfounded. The harmonium was still there – and Viljamaa returned to play the continuo part on it.
In sympathy with the instrument’s squeeze-box tones, Kuusisto brought off the solo part with the exhilaration of a hoedown, and eased his way into the allegro assai finale via a gradual build-up of tempo and volume.
A second Bach concerto, however, proved more than this novel heterodoxy could sustain, even though in the two solo roles Kuusisto and ICO leader Katherine Hunka were clearly of one mind. Rustic rather than psychological tranquillity seemed to be the aim in the central Largo.
The return to folk idioms, this time informing the wistful utterances of Bartók’s Divertimento, was thus welcome. Some occasional lapses of intonation notwithstanding, the ICO’s ardently expressive playing dug deep into the music’s troubled soul.