Kalevi Aho: Siedi/Symphony No.5
A year ago, Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger was the soloist when Elim Chan conducted the RSNO in a performance of Kalevi Aho’s Siedi, a concerto that is beginning to rival James MacMillan’s Veni Veni Emmanuel as the work most often performed by Colin Currie, the Scots musician who commissioned it.
The Finnish composer is as well known on home turf for his operas as orchestral works (17 symphonies so far) and a sense of theatre is very much part of the performance of the work, but I am going to hazard a guess that Currie is not as distracted by that in concert as Grubinger seemed to be. It is also probably significant that nearly a decade has passed between his premiere of the piece, in London with the LPO under Osmo Vanska, and Currie’s recording, and during that time it has become Aho’s most-played piece for orchestra.
The relatively small, if highly specific, kit the soloist needs cannot have hurt its prospects, but that in no way limits the palette of the music. There will be exceptions, but in general percussion concertos are exciting, both to listen to and to watch, and this one is as invigorating as any. In what is a superbly-realised recording, the particular timbre of everything Currie touches, taps or thumps is beautifully realised, as is the incisive playing of Vanska’s old band, especially the brass and strings.
But for every big, brash moment there is a corresponding piece of shimmering subtlety in a narrative that clearly evokes the global kinship involved in making music, its roots in the earliest civilisations and most basic instruments. It is a story with room for improvisation too, and Currie’s cadenzas are beautifully of a piece with the composition.
There is such subtle virtuosity in his playing as well: yes, it is often very fast, but just as audible is the command of the huge range of techniques required to perform this music on just nine instruments.