Kari Kriikku, a clarinetist of explosive agility and melting lyricism, is not a household name, but he should be. He's beginning to develop a higher American profile, thanks to the support of Finnish compatriots such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä: two summers ago he made a memorable appearance at Mostly Mozart, playing the Mozart concerto, and in February he'll unfurl Magnus Lindberg's rhapsodic Clarinet Concerto at the New York Philharmonic.
I first came across Kriikku's name in the fine print of the 1987 Finlandia recording of Lindberg's Kraft. This youthful, noise-drunk masterpiece was written in West Berlin in the mid-1980s, and the city's punk scene left its mark on the music. At the outset, a wild clarinet solo sounds against a full-on orchestral melee (led by a whistle-blowing conductor). There's no better way to illustrate Kriikku's art than to play excerpts of the two Kraft recordings to date, both with Salonen conducting (Finlandia 372 [out of print] and Ondine 1017). I slightly prefer the first, because it has a harsher, more primal vibe, and also because I once used it as nerve-jangling theme music for my college radio show. The two tracks sound very nice together.