FROM INTERNATIONAL RECORD
Cello Concertoa. Symphony No. 6,
(cello); Tampere Philharmonic bChoir and Orchestra/Eri Klas.
Recorded with support from the Performing Music Promotion Centre (ESEK).
Producer Seppo Siirala. Engineer Enno Mäemets. Date September
Ondine ODE951-2 (full
price, 56 minutes)
Einar Englund died in June last year, at the age of 83. He had the satisfaction
of knowing that the sessions for this disc - with the last of his symphonies
and concertos that had still to be recorded - would be taking place only
three months later, though it's a real pity that he didn't live to enjoy
these urgent, directly communicative performances.
Englund's Cello Concerto is a quiet masterpiece, worthy of being ranked alongside
such similarly unassertive treasures as the Elgar and Miaskovsky. Written
in 1954, it was the first concerto he composed, pre-dating even his first
contribution for his own instrument, the piano; that followed a year later.
Like those earlier English and Russian exemplars, Englund's Cello Concerto
treads a fine line of emotional ambivalence: there is an enormous depth of
feeling in it, but not a hint of sentimentality - Englund's emotion is dry-eyed
and adult. His forebears are immediately audible: the harmonic language owes
much to Bartók, and the orchestral textures have more than a hint
of Prokofiev. There are also intermittent but obviously unintended thematic
reminiscences scattered through the work: a phrase that stalks the first
movement sounds just like 'I got rhythm'; and the slow movement begins with
a three-note figure that will instantly suggest that we're about to hear
an orchestration of Bach's D major Toccata, BWV565. But the steely sense
of purpose that underlies the autumnal wistfulness of much of the score is
entirely Englund's own: his music always knows where it is going. And it's
always transparently honest. The resourcefulness of the cello writing, moreover,
is nothing short of astonishing in a non-cellist composer: Englund draws
a subtle range of colours from the instrument that I simply hadn't heard
Aphorisms, composed in 1984 as the Sixth of Englund's seven symphonies, is
a very different animal: a six-movement setting of texts translated into
Finnish from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The direct appeal of the Cello
Concerto is replaced by a tougher, more overtly granitic approach: the orchestral
sound is darker, with declamatory brass and side-drum tattoos adding the
march rhythms so characteristic of Englund; the melodic material, too, is
more abrupt, often consisting of insistent motives rather than full phrases
- to my surprise, I find it reminds me of the Symphony of Psalms.
And, in a further surprise from such a natural contrapuntist, Englund's choral
writing is predominantly chordal. The third movement, a scherzo for orchestra
alone (which, as Jaakko Haapaniemi's excellent essay informs us, the composer
initially intended to furnish with a choral line; he never got around to
the task), is vintage Englund: bluff, blistering, blazingly exciting - energy
on the move.
The performances are first-rate - an important factor in first recordings
such as these. Jan-Erik Gustafsson's dedication to the Cello Concerto is
plain to hear, and he projects its ambiguous line with passion and assurance.
Tampere's new chief conductor, the Estonian Eri Klas, gets excellent results
from his musicians, the rhythms crisp and clean, the lines long and firm.
The recorded sound is of a similar quality: you can hear everything that's
going on. The Tampere Philharmonic Choir is a touch hesitant in its delivery,
but since that's the fiercest criticism I can manage, this disc deserves
a forthright and enthusiastic recommendation.
This review will appear in the September issue of International Record