You could sense that wintertime was nearing an end and the spring was coming to my native Turku. Music by masters of the Romantic era and beyond flourished like a blossom filling every heart in the sold out Turku Concert Hall with glee. Finnish pianist Juhani Lagerspetz and conductor Ari Rasilainen offered a versatile programme of Spaniard Antón García Abril's Cantos De Pleamar followed by Rachmaninov’s powerful Piano Concerto no. 2 and  Schumann’s romantic Fourth Symphony.

Ari Rasilainen © Lukas Beck
Ari Rasilainen
© Lukas Beck
Antón García Abril has written both vocal and orchestral works. He is also well-known for his numerous film scores such as Texas Adios (1966), Pancho Villa (1972) and Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971). Abril’s piece for strings launches with moody string motif that are quite depictive. The main element is a hooking repetitive rhythmic pattern that moves between different registers. There is also a contrast between clear tonality and sinister dissonance. In addition, the strong rhythm resembles the minimalism of Philip Glass’ or Steve Reich’s music. It was a fascinating experience and quite effectively written for such gentle instruments as strings. 

After a tranquil beginning, the storm arrived with Rahmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. This piece, written after recovering a long period of depression, illustrates the darkness flourishing from the depths of the subconscious. These extreme emotions are in the dramatic key of C minor. The concerto established Rahmaninov’s reputation and is one of his most famous works. The Russian composer was also a piano virtuoso who was known for his apparent ability to span a 13th at the keyboard.

Along with big hands it takes great talent to pull off this concerto. During the first movement, Lagerspetz tackled the fast arpeggios accompanying the grandiose orchestral motifs. He ran his fingers rapidly across the keyboard. Unfortunately he was sometimes overshadowed by the Turku Philharmonic's brass section. In the next movement, Lagerspetz seemed a little more relaxed and he began to swing along to the melodic lines. During his solo he suddenly played fast motif that reached up to a piercing tremolo. He is one of the most critically acclaimed Finnish pianists for reason.

Ari Rasilainen managed to capture the dramatic essence without undue exaggeration. During Abril’s piece his gestures were more modest but as the concert proceeded he almost began to dance. His communication with the orchestra was fluent, waving his fingers for a tremolo. This gentle giant, who looks twice his size on a platform, may not take himself too seriously but this music is another story.

In the second half, it was time for the Turku Philharmonics to take centre-stage with Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Considered one of Schumann’s most innovative symphonies, it was completed in 1841 but was revised in 1851 with the help of Schumann's wife Clara, and finally premiered in 1882. Along with two flutes, oboes and clarinets, this “musical fantasy” includes a large brass section for its time. It was one of the most powerful experiences in a long time, especially the mixture of singing melodies and powerful brass attacks that could take your breath away. This was an evening to remember.