KLAMI: Kalevala Suite, Op. 23. Suomenlinna Overture, Op. 30. Lemminkäinen's Adventures on The Island of Saari
Turku Philharmonic Orch/Jorma Panula, cond.
Naxos 8.553757 (B) (DDD) TT: 71:46
Uuno Klami (1900-61) was a post-Sibelian composer who doubled as critic for the Helsinki Sanomat without embracing the new modernism between world wars, or after the second one. He was just as aware as Sibelius of his nation's saga-history in the Kalevala, but did not try to imitate the elder, who was sui generis. At the age of 24 Klami supplemented studies at the Helsinki Academy with a year in Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Ravel, Florent Schmitt, and new music of the time, which surely included Stravinsky's neo-Classicism, although it left no mark on him. But French composers certainly did, to the extent that he couldn't forget Ravel's Bolero in Sea Pictures of 1929—especially in the final movement called "3 Bf" (referring to the Beaufort Scale of wind velocity, to borrow from Kimmo Korhonen's generous and informative annotations). This does not cancel one's enjoyment of a moody Impressionistic score, but needs to be noted.

Klami's music on Finnish myths is both more individual and characterful. The Kalevala Suite in five movements, ending with "The Forging of the Sampo," is noteworthy music composed in 1933 but revised as late as 1943. It boasts a lovely Adagio called "Cradle Song for Lemminkäinen" -- the rascally protagonist more Loki than Siegfried. Adventures on the Island of Saari shares subject-matter with the first of Sibelius' Legends,Op. 22, but doesn't otherwise duplicate the retired master's take on it. The Suomenlinna concert overture of 1940 was lost during World War II and had to be recomposed; these are the fortress islands that protect Helsinki, and while the work's purpose is patriotic, it is no less enjoyable for that (consider Elgar's circumstantial Pomp, Tchaikovsky's Slavic March, or Smetana's Blanik).

Performances on Naxos, which duplicate Leif Segerstam's Kalevala and Sea Pictures for Finlandia, are clearly superior. Panula is a senior maestro without being a greybeard; pupils have included Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Osmo Vänskä. From 1963-5 he was principal conductor of the Turku Philharmonic, which supplies in thrust and polish what it lacks in sheer numbers (74 currently); together they still make music vibrantly. Movement for movement these performances ace Segerstam's with the better-known but not better-disciplined Finnish Radio Orchestra. Personal memories of Panula are entrenched: he introduced me to Sibelius' Sixth Symphony live, and Luonnotar in any form, on the same program during the Sibelius/Nielsen centennial celebrations of 1965. Vividly forthcoming sound seals what, on the basis of price alone, would be a bargain, and is a steal given such performances of always likeable, sometimes admirable music—from the second shelf, agreed, but no less engaging for that.