Last Sunday, Pekka Kuusisto performed in Siuntio, a Finnish town not so far from Helsinki, as part of the Lux Musicae Festival, together with pianist Joonas Ahonen and hornist Hervé Joulain. In the penumbra of the candles and the gentle lights of a beautiful church from the 1400s, the first notes of Brahms’ Violin Sonata in G major resounded.

Pekka Kuusisto © Maija Tammi
Pekka Kuusisto
© Maija Tammi
Pekka Kuusisto © Maija Tammi
Pekka Kuusisto
© Maija Tammi
Kuusisto’s sound is all about the power of simplicity. He used vibrato with discretion, and guided his bow up and down the strings in wave-like patterns, barely visible to the eye yet charming to the ear. Kuusisto’s inner peace was palpable in the relaxed approach he took to time and space in music. Ahonen seemed on the other hand to have a stricter approach, and at times it felt like he was hurrying slightly.

In the second movement in particular, the dynamic transitions were subtle and smooth: with masterful awareness of the overall progress of the piece, the musicians never exceeded mezzo-piano. It might have been also because of this that the audience was unusually silent between movements.

I believe the third movement of the G major sonata is a brilliant example of how Brahms involved his instruments in active conversations, with a high rate of alternation and reciprocal quotation. This movement was the one in which Kuusisto and Ahonen reached the highest ensemble agreement in the piece.

It is not easy to stick to the mere art of observing and to avoid falling into emotional description, when it comes to reviewing a concert by Kuusisto. My general impression, for argument’s sake, was that he doesn’t play his violin for what it is, but for what he wants it to be. I am, however, not sure how this can be explained concretely.

The Brahms sonata was followed by Charles Ives’ Violin Sonata no. 4, also known as Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting. This was an interesting choice of repertoire by Ahonen – who is also artistic director of the festival – as was the last piece, György Ligeti’s Trio for horn, violin and piano.

All elements of the Ives piece seemed to convey contrast. At first, the piano and the violin were engaged in a fast-paced and heavily harmonized fight. Even when, at times, the pace would slow down and the instruments seemed to reach rhythmical agreement, dissonance was disturbingly present. Contrast was also detectable in the sudden transitions between contrasting moods, such as the one taking place in the second movement. At the moment a point of calm is reached, in fact, with consonant harmonies and slow pace, the piano abruptly bursts into rough madness, soon to return – just as swiftly – to the preceding atmosphere.

Hornist Hervé Joulain joined the ensemble for the third and last piece after the intermission. His timbre kept up with the other two by blending in a warm, unique sound rare to the classical repertoire. This trio progresses mostly by the instruments interacting in a two-plus-one pattern, and alternating in covering different registers. The rhythms are fairly varied, from simple sequences of long notes to intense syncopations, and they even draw elements from jazz music. The mutes are often used by horn and violin, which sculpt several astonishingly touching colors.

The interpretation of the Ives and Ligeti pieces is not that easy to comment upon, given the rarity of performance. As far as the Brahms is concerned, it was so pleasantly personal, modest and touching that it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. It is curious that other spectators in the audience claimed the same. I wonder if this “Kuusisto effect” could perhaps be investigated scientifically.

****1