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Einar ENGLUND (1916 – 1999)
Piano Quintet (1941)a
String Quartet (1985/6)
Peter Lönnqvist (piano)a
Sinfonia Lahti Chamber Ensemble
Recorded: Sibelius Hall, Lahti, October 2000 (Piano Quintet) and May 2002 (String Quartet)
BIS BIS-CD-1197 [54:57]


Englund is primarily regarded as a symphonic composer. His seven symphonies and his concertos are the backbone of a substantial output. The majority of his chamber works were composed fairly late, after he returned to composition following a ten-year period of silence. The exception, however, is the Piano Quartet composed in 1941 and slightly revised in the early 1970s. It seems that Sibelius heard and appreciated the piece that was composed as Englund’s diploma work at the Sibelius Academy. Apparently both Englund’s composition teacher Bengt Carlson and Sibelius agreed that the quality of the piece far exceeded that of a so-called diploma piece. True, the Piano Quintet is a substantial and ambitious piece of music, in which several musical influences inevitably rub shoulders. However it also displays a number of Englund fingerprints, such as his liking for clear lines and forms, and for neatly worked-out counterpoint as well as his inborn lyricism. The Quintet is in four movements with a short Scherzo placed second. The first Allegro opens in march rhythm, and the energetic drive of the music is sustained throughout the movement, although the music pauses in slower sections. At times, too, the march tune acquires an ironic tinge that turns it almost into a tango. However, for all its energy, the first movement ends with a question mark. The concise Scherzo that follows was regarded by the composer as the most inspired part of the quintet. The third movement, originally dedicated to the composer’s brother killed during the last days of the Winter War (in the published score, the dedication is extended to the whole work), is predominantly elegiac and meditative. It builds up to a pair of impressive climaxes, the second of which leads straight into the final movement dominated by a rousing heroic theme presented by the violins and including a fugal section. A final un poco largamente restatement of the theme brings the quintet to its triumphant, though ultimately appeased conclusion. A splendid first opus which any composer might be proud of. It was to be followed by the epic First Symphony that put Englund firmly onto Finland’s musical map.

After a long period of silence, Englund returned to composition and resumed his symphonic progress. Later still, he turned to chamber music and composed some fine pieces such as the Suite for Solo Cello (1986), the Piano Trio (1982), the Cello Sonata (1982), the Violin Sonata (1979) as well as his only String Quartet completed in 1986. It, too, is in four movements with the Scherzo (actually a Waltz) placed second. The first movement, that the composer views as some sort of prelude, is a compressed, strongly contrapuntal sonata form. The Valse that follows functions as a Scherzo, albeit a somewhat understated one. The following Adagio is Englund at his most warmly lyrical again. It opens with a magnificent theme on cello, that gives way to intense, expressive tunes superbly worked-out in masterly counterpoint. The String Quartet ends with a theme and five highly contrasted variations capped by a peaceful coda. Englund’s beautiful String Quartet is on the whole more serene than the often agitated and troubled Piano Quintet. It is a marvellous piece of music that leaves one wishing that Englund had written more string quartets.

These substantial works, all premiere recordings, are most welcome additions to Englund’s discography. They are superbly well served with polished and dedicated performances, and warmly recorded. This is a must for all “Englundians”, and is warmly recommended to all who respond to sincere, expressive and deeply human music.

Hubert Culot

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