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Henning MANKELL (1868-1930)
Solo Piano Works
CD 1
Three Preludes, Op. 56 (Waves [2:34] Summer [4:02] Nenia [3:49])
Valse mesto, Op. 58 [5:55]
Three Legends, Op. 59 (Without Title [7:18] Atlantis [9:20] Sister Beatrice [13:11])
Four Pieces, Op. 60 (Barcarole [7:24] Evening Mood [5:38] Tempest Mood [3:31] Slow Waves [4:03])
CD 2
Fantasy-Sonata No, 1 Op. 69 [15:36]
Fantasy-Sonata No. 3 Op. 72 [15:50]
Fantasy-Sonata No. 6 Op. 76 [17:29]
Ballade No. 7 Op. 77 [17:40]
Anna Christensson (piano)
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, 29 May-1 June, 1-3 December 2008
PHOENIX EDITION 184 [67:14 + 67:05]
Experience Classicsonline

To many readers the name Henning Mankell may ring a bell. This Swedish author is one of the world’s best-selling writers and his books have been published in more than 100 countries. He is probably best known for his long series of criminal novels about Kurt Wallander, also filmed a number of times, most recently with Kenneth Branagh as the hero in three BBC productions. The composer Henning Mankell was the author’s grandfather. Not even in Sweden is he a household name and up till now he has been scantily represented in the record catalogues. My only record with music by him is an LP, produced by Swedish Radio in the 1970s where Andreas Röhn and Kerstin Hindart play a violin sonata coupled with one of Brahms’s sonatas. As far as I know it has never been transferred to CD. It may seem surprising that a German company is the first to issue these late piano works in their series Piano Rarities and we must be grateful that these works have been unearthed.

After studying organ, singing and musical pedagogics Mankell turned to the piano and worked for many years as piano teacher and music critic. As a composer he was self-taught and this also shows in his music which is idiomatically written for his instrument but is rather impulsive. Typically most of the compositions represented here are of the nondescript kind: preludes, legends, pieces, fantasy-sonatas. Mankell ‘found his inspiration in the natural grandeur of northern Sweden and later in the archipelagos in the south of the country’, we read in the liner-notes by another grandson, Gustav Mankell.

Stylistically his music is based on the romantic era but he assimilated the impressionists’ tonal palette as well and even though he expressed reservations against Scriabin there is a clear affinity with the Russian. Harmonically he is quite advanced and was regarded as futuristic.

All the music on these two discs is from the end of his life, composed 1922-1930. Basically he seems to have been a rather gentle person; there is a meditative character in many of these pieces. The first of the three Legends Op. 59 is however strong and dramatic to begin with but the moods shift and he ends on a contemplative note. Atlantis, the second of these, reveals dark waters - down in the deep - and then it rises up in the sunlight, jubilant, only to sink again slowly down to the depths. This is most certainly Mankell’s Cathédrale engloutie. Sister Beatrice, whoever she was, is a rather lively and adventurous person but she also has her patches of dark thoughts and contemplation. The sounds of bells - light and shimmering - seem to indicate a happy event - maybe marriage. The four pieces Op. 60 are inspired by the nature and Tempest Mood may be his most impressive composition.

In his fantasy-sonatas the stress is decidedly on fantasy. They are loosely constructed and in several passages Mankell seems fully occupied by exploring the sonorities of the instrument and the dissonances he creates. They are long and not very coherent but - possibly through this vaguely outlined structure - deeply fascinating. Typical of Mankell is the profusion of ideas, sharp contrasts and a freedom of expression that makes listening an adventure. There is very little predictability and returning to his music offers new insights every time.

Anna Christensson is a convincing advocate of Mankell’s music and with excellent recording this is an issue for adventurous lovers of piano music.

Göran Forsling



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