The composition of most concerts at Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival is, to put it mildly, eclectic, with a near guarantee that any given concert will include at least one work you've never heard before. Even by Kuhmo standards, however, Sunday night's main event in the Arts Centre was particularly diverse. Loosely arranged around the theme of “Fatal Attraction” (which, if you think about it, is a pretty broad church), we had lieder, opera paraphrases, a two piano arrangement of a ballet suite and a scene from an obscure expressionist opera. Unsurprisingly, some dishes in this varied buffet came off better than others. But the best were very delicious indeed.

Curtain call for <i>Mörder, Höffnung des Frauen</i> © David Karlin
Curtain call for Mörder, Höffnung des Frauen
© David Karlin

The voice and the piece that sparked my imagination the most were baritone Jaakko Kortekangas singing Liszt's Die Lorelei, a setting of a steamy number by Heinrich Heine telling of the boatman wrecked on a rocky outcrop of the Rhine as he gazes distractedly at the fair maiden combing her golden hair above. Kortekangas is a big man who exudes authority both in his bearing and his honeyed baritone voice. He enunciated every word perfectly, giving the intimacy of a fireside man-to-man chat in a 19th century smoking room. Except that all this was done with unalloyed technical excellence: perfect intonation at all points of the register, seamless passaggio, immaculately weighted dynamics. It's a voice I want to hear again.

Liszt's opera paraphrases are famous, but it turns out that he wasn't the only composer to write them: just before the intermission, we heard Mikhail Glinka's Divertimento brillante based on Bellini's La Sonnambula, scored for string quartet, double bass and piano. From the start, pianist Nino Gvetadze and violinist Wouter Vossen shone, Gvetadze providing the rhythmic drive and the basis for the ensemble staying pin sharp through a series of tricky shifts in accenting and tempo. Wouter Vossen produced bel canto clarity of tone for the soaring melodies. Marc Vossen (another third of the Storioni trio) played a notable cello passage with Gvetadze. As in the best opera paraphrases, we were infused with the essence of Bellini's melodies even though the format was voiceless.

A Fantasy from Mozart's Die Entführung provided a good opener; tenor Jussi Myllys sang an engaging version of Beethoven's lyrical Adelaide; pianists Natacha Kudritskaya and Valeria Resjan pleased the crowed with Mikhail Pletnev's arrangement of five movements from Prokofiev's Cinderella. Other offerings were less successful. The Enesco Quartet and double bassist Odile Simon played a version of Bizet's Carmen Fantasy that was not helped by the (uncredited and presumably late) addition of a glockenspiel player: the ringing percussion distracted from any melody in the high strings more than it added body to the overall mix. Lili Boulanger's Les Sirènes proved problematic as the combination of strings, piano, tenor and three female voices turned rather muddy, exacerbating problems of diction.

The biggest surprise, and the most impressive music, was left to last: a scene from Mörder, Höffnung des Frauen, a one act opera by Paul Hindemith based on a decidedly bizarre expressionist play by Oskar Kokoschka. The piece opens with an bold set of brass discords, morphing into a heavy-footed rhythm reminiscent of “Bydło” in Pictures at an Exhibition: conducted by festival director Vladimir Mendelssohn, this was genuinely thrilling music, especially at the points where a loud and imposing passage switched to a soft and threatening one. I wasn't able to understand a word sung by soprano Mari Palo (admittedly, given the nature of Kokoschka's writing, it might not have helped me much if I had been) and she was sometimes submerged below a substantial orchestra, but at the big climactic moments of her singing, she was every bit as thrilling as the instrumentalists.

Chamber music? Really? But who cares – it made for a great end to an evening containing some great music making.