Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Heino ELLER (1887-1970)
Complete Preludes for piano (1910-1937)
Vardo Rumessen (piano)
rec 3-4 Nov 1997, Lefrak Concert Hall, New York
PRO PIANO RECORDS PPR224520  [71.29]

Vardo Rumessen is something of a hero amongst those fascinated by Estonian concert music. He gave the US premiere of Tubin's Piano Concertino in 1993 and has also performed, in concert, works by Tobias and Tubin. BIS have his 3CD set of the complete piano music of Eduard Tubin in their catalogue.

Rumessen knows the Eller Preludes from the inside. This is no exclusive recording project for him. His belief in the music suffuses his playing and he draws on deep wells of warmth as well as potency of technique. He performed the Preludes in concert in 1987 and it is also worth noting that he has given concert recitals of the complete Tubin piano music and piano pieces by Saar (1982) and the complete fifteen Etudes-Tableaux of Rachmaninov (1980). Given his approach to the Eller I suspect that his performance of the Rachmaninov cycle would be a force to reckon with if only a recording existed.

The pianist is also active as a publisher having personally published Estonian music by Saar, Tobias, Kapp, Oja and Eller. Rumessen it was who realised Rudolf Tobias's oratorio Jonah's Mission. He has also written extensively on the Estonian composers mentioned above. It is therefore no surprise to find that the notes (English only) are by Rumessen and we are the beneficiaries of his in-depth knowledge of his subject.

Eller's Preludes are presented in Five sets and an isolated single florid Prelude in D flat major (dedicated by Rumessen to Scriabin's memory). Book I comprises seven preludes dating from the early years of the twentieth century (1914-17) and later much revised. However despite the revisions they seem stylistically unified in an idiom of high and striving romance close to Rachmaninov and Bortkiewicz but with impressionistic incursions. The Fifth is a superb hyper-romantic little study - well worth sampling. When you think of the world turned on its dark side at the times these were written it adds to the tragic muse of the final D minor prelude. This starts out grotesque and ends in flourishing majesty.

The Second Book (seven preludes) comes from 1920. While the remnants of late-romanticism are present (try the D flat major prelude at track 13) the music is seized by a more impressionistic hand. This adds hesitancy and wispy fragmentation with a more recondite and (in the case of the G minor Prelude) Stygian approach to harmony. Many of the pieces have a fragrantly orchidaceous character without collapsing into the refulgent complexity of Sorabji. With this book you are part way towards Bernard van Dieren's Six Sketches (1911) and Sorabji's Jardin Parfumé. In the G flat major prelude (track 11) Chopin is heard through a Debussian filter. Sorabji, who was a ruthlessly demanding epicure, rated York Bowen's Twenty-Four Preludes (recorded complete in the 1990s by Marie-Catherine Girod on the Parisian Opes 3D label) extremely highly. I wonder if he ever heard these Eller works?

There are Four preludes in Book III. The first two come from 1921 and all four display that lunge toward discontinuity and an almost pointillistic approach which is at its most extreme in the last two preludes (tracks 17 and 18, 1925 and 1932 respectively). The fourth set so grouped on this disc spans 1929-1937 with the first three of five from 1929 when Eller seemed close to the world of Miaskovsky in his Symphonies 10 and 13. This is the music of which surrealism is made. Images melt and blend with the freedom that only the dreamlike state allows. The music is glistening, retiary and, in the 1937 Prelude, allows what seems to be a vision of a Macdowell sketch viewed through the none too forbidding refraction of the Twentieth Century's loss of innocence.

The fifth group are from 1934 and unlike the 1937 Prelude are in most cases (the B major is the exception - oblique in expression though ending conventionally) straightforward. In the case of the A major (track 25) this might easily be from a enthralled pupil of Peter Warlock (try the Folk Song Preludes) or E J Moeran (e.g. The White Mountain). The Fifth (C sharp minor) glistens with the stellar radiance of Gerald Finzi's In Terra Pax.

This is the world premiere recording of the Preludes.

Rob Barnett


I am grateful to Vardo Rumessen for pointing out that:-

(1) the Prelude D Flat Major by Eller was dedicated to Scriabin by Heino Eller himself (not by Rumessen).

(2) the Oratorio by Rudolf Tobias was restored and completed by Rumessen.

By the way, it will be performed in New York Carnegie Hall in December 2001 by the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. The work waspreviously performed to acclaim in April 2000 in Cologne!

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