This Ondine recording presents the Symphonies No. 5 and 7 by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho as performed by the Leipzig Symphony Orchestra conducted by Max Pommer. As I write this, this CD is still widely and available and doesn't sell for much. However, if you can track down a copy of Finlandia's two-CD compilation Meet the Composer: Kalevi Aho, you can get this same recording reissued as well as other interesting Aho material.
In terms of bold, brash modernist explorations, the Symphony No. 5 (1975-76) is light-years beyond Aho's first four symphonies. Up to this point, he was pushing the model of Shostakovich just a little bit further. This piece, however, can seem like one of the loudest and most dissonant pieces in my collection, and I listen mainly to the 20th-century avant garde! Aho's goal was to create not a just a polyphony of instrumental voices, but a polyphony of styles. As the piece opens, a repeated stabbing motion in the low strings is joined by a jovial figure on alternating woodwinds, a simple enough beginning, but soon the piece begins to scale to epic dimensions. While there are some restful passages of straightforward pastoral writing or dances, there are also times when every seemingly every single instrument in the orchestra is contributing to one of the multiple strata, and so much is going on at once that two conductors are required (Pommer is joined here by the composer himself). There are recurring themes, however, so the Fifth remains easy to follow and has a clear dramatic arc. A CD recording can give only an idea of the grandeur of this work, an enormous throbbing behemoth, and I hope to see it in concert someday.
Apparently Aho went further in this direction with his next symphony, but the Sixth has never been commercially recorded. His symphonic output then entered a long hiatus as he was rethinking his approach to the form. The Symphony No. 7 (1988) ended up being a suite of music from his opera "Insect Life", which uses insects as metaphors for human society, and in spite of the cuteness of that idea, is an entirely serious, even grim, work. Each movement has its own character and is self-contained. "The Parasitic Hymenopter and its Larva" is dominated by low brass with occasional intrusions by harp or percussion, though it changes after an eruption that briefly takes us back to Aho's Fifth. "The Butterflies" sounds like cabaret music, while "The Grasshoppers" is an ethereal scherzo and "The Dung Beetles" all doom and gloom. The end result has a lot of memorable music, and unlike the 5th this is accessible to a general classical audience. However, in my opinion it doesn't entirely merit the title "symphony", and is comparable to Berg's pseudo-symphony "Lulu-Suite".
The Symphony No. 7 was recorded again on BIS as part of that label's composer-supervised cycle of Aho's complete symphonies. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra give a superior performance there, and the sound quality is better, so the BIS is the better place to hear the work. When BIS finally gets around the recording the 5th, the same may hold there, consigning this whole Ondine release to oblivion. However, in the meantime when there is no other extant recording of the 5th, Aho fans need to hear this.