The Finnish composer Eero Hämeenniemi (born 1951) has lately been getting buzz for his combination of the Carnatic tradition of South India with Western classical ensembles, but this old Ondine disc documents a very different phase in his career, namely his youthful serialist pursuits. Jukka-Pekka Saraste leads the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Symphonies No. 1 (1983) and 2 (1988) are the kind of twelve-tone pieces that hint at the emotional directness of earlier Romantic composers. They are not quite heart-on-sleeve like, say, Berg, and rather owe more to Hämeeniemi's teacher Paavo Heininen. The First is only fifteen minutes long, in one movement, but proceeds through a variety of different uses of the orchestra. At the very midpoint of the work, it lapses into silence for a few seconds. The Second is more ambitious at half an hour and three movements, and seeks to contrast fast, energetic music with slow, anguished lines.
The Violin Concerto (1990-1991), as the programme notes put it, "starts from nothing, condenses into melody, sings, dances and eventually ends with a question mark." Here the soloist is Hannele Segerstam. Hämeeniemi claimed to strengthen the link to the classical tradition with this work, but I think most listeners will see it as cut from the same cloth as the symphonies.
I'm very comfortable with serialism and 20th-century atonality in general, and I can sit through these pieces without complaint. However, 1980s-early 1990s Hämeenniemi does not have a distinct voice at all, and I feel like I've heard everything here before. Writing a review was difficult because there is just so little one can say about these pieces.