BBC CO - Nordic Adventures: Finland, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

What a title - it sounds like sensible fun. "Late Junction Live" would have been nearer the mark, as this assortment from Finland reflected the cult Radio 3 programme's mixes. Or the "Fiona Talkington Show". The radio presenter was on stage to introduce music that was clearly her thing: first the BBC Concert Orchestra in some light classical rarities, then a fiddle band, an accordion virtuoso and a Radio 3 commission for the whole lot. The whiff of authenticity ran all the way from Sibelius to tangos.

You didn't know tangos and polkas came from Finland? Well, maybe you did know that a population about a tenth of Britain's supplies the world stage with a new conducting star almost yearly. The latest debutant, Jaakko Kuusisto, introduced himself with a neat opener from the early 20th century by Erkki Melartin - like a Nordic "Pomp and Circumstance" march, complete with the same kind of big tune, which it threw away just when everybody was getting to enjoy it. That's being generous with Finnish reserve. Einojuhani Rautavaara's suite The Fiddlers followed, even terser, purposeful and slightly eccentric in the composer's way.

Now out to the sticks in Kaustinen, the fiddle capital of "perhaps the world" and home to the family-based roots band JPP: four violins, a bass and a harmonium. They are trained, serious, and serious-looking, who use a fairly classical performing style for compositions in a folk idiom. That'll be sensible fun, then. But their slightly introverted relish, sincere and anti-virtuoso, radiated such warmth it won over the house.

Accordionist Maria Kalaniemi capitalised on the goodwill with undisguised virtuosity. It was tango and polka time. If we can have British blues, why not Finnish polkas? Kalaniemi gave them a dark twist that made for a distinctive idiom.

This first half suggested a culture in which classical and folk music are part of the same continuum - something that Western Europe has long lost. Bringing them together in a new piece by JPP member Timo Alakotila had logic. It was called Moraine, after the debris at the end of a glacier.

Moraine started with an expertly worked and scored alternation of the participants, and switched to seven-beat rhythm as the even flow risked turning bland. It had just got going when it stopped. Did the commission money run out?

After this, the Symphony No 7 by Sibelius suggested folk connections in its material quite early on - probably not self-conscious on the composer's part. But the performance sounded as if rehearsal time ran out. For five minutes, it had imposing concentration, but orchestral balance and ensemble deteriorated - a pity, since Kuusisto had positive ideas about holding the various speeds together within a framework of gradual acceleration, and he won the orchestra's applause at the end.

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