By Keith Potter
From the Independent - 25 April 2006
The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, 57, isn't as well known in Britain as his compatriots Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. That's on the face of it surprising, since his music is based on familiar symphonic virtues.
Aho's new Clarinet Concerto received its premiere in the latest BBC Symphony Orchestra Barbican programme, conducted by Osmo Vanska, with the young Swedish clarinettist Martin Frost as soloist. Its arresting solo opening, with Frost practically pawing the ground like a stallion, may have its origins in an apparent plan to have the soloist dance, but it here came over as rather silly. The rampantly posing manner turns out to be very much Frost's own in general, and though it's impossible to deny his enormous skills, he's distressing to watch.
Aho's music, too, struck me as a little like that: extremely well written for both solo clarinet and, particularly, for the orchestra, constantly inventive texturally, every mood effortlessly captured, tension expertly sustained and released - but musically completely empty, with absolutely nothing to say. The final two of the concerto's five movements bring a more compelling lyricism, but even this is spoilt by the would-be modernism of the solo part's multiphonics, which here feel completely out of place.
In the second-movement cadenza, my attention was diverted to the orchestra's principal clarinettist, whose eyebrows offered a dazzling choreographic display of their own as he watched Frost's antics. But Richard Hosford got his moments of legitimate attention as well, when Aho cleverly coupled the principal orchestral clarinettist into the soloist's action.
No chance of such diversions in this concert's second half, in which Vanska provided a searing account of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony that was notable for the high quality of the BBC SO's overall sound, not something one was often able to say a while back. But what on earth was that boorish, brutish, insultingly badly orchestrated opener doing on a professional programme? Todd Levin's BLUR (fragrance free mix): note the name, to avoid it at all costs in the future.