Selim PALMGREN (1878 - 1951)
Sonata in D minor Op.11 (1900) [14:34]
May Night Op.27/4 (1908) [2:30]
Twenty-four Preludes Op.17 (1907) [39:09]
Henri Sigfridsson (piano)
rec. Järvenpää Hall, 17-18 April 2011 and 2 November 2011
ONDINE ODE 1192-2 [56:38] 

Palmgren was already a proficient pianist when he registered as a student at the Helsinki Music Institute in 1895. It is thus not surprising that the bulk of his output is to be found in his music for piano and particularly in his five piano concertos (1904, 1911, 1914, 1926/7 and 1941). His style remained strongly rooted in some post-romantic tradition of sorts with rare incursions into some mild Impressionism. His Sonata in D minor Op.11 is his most extensive work for solo piano although it is fairly compact. Moreover, as Kimmo Korhonen rightly remarks in his informative notes, Palmgren's Piano Sonata was the first sonata written by a significant pianist-composer, even Sibelius's slightly earlier sonata cannot compare with Palmgren's. Although fairly large Sibelius's output for piano does not include any really important work, the bulk of it consisting of short pieces, some of which might even be described as 'salon music'. Palmgren's writing is completely idiomatic and this is clear throughout his entire output for piano. Thus, his Sonata Op.11 is a remarkably assured piece of music, not only as to the piano writing but also the quality and memorable fibre of the thematic content. It is obviously an ambitious work that achieves its goal within a relatively short time span and with great formal clarity. 

The Twenty-four Preludes Op.17 were partly composed in Italy where Palmgren had to seek refuge after having had an affair with Maikki Järnefelt, who was married to conductor and composer Armas Järnefelt. Palmgren married Maikki in 1910. However, this is not really important as far as the set of preludes is concerned. The music is in no way related to these events and is just some sort of summation of Palmgren's piano music as so many sets of preludes written before and after him. Of course in the intervening years Palmgren had somewhat broadened his expressive outlook although the music still remains firmly rooted in some Romantic tradition. As might be expected, too, the preludes are quite varied and cover a fairly wide range of atmospheres and the overall picture is somewhat uneven. Some preludes still clearly hark back at, say, Chopin, i.e. at least superficially. Some other, among the best as far as I am concern, are laid-out “in folk style” and thus breath some welcome fresh air. Some of these preludes, however, also have a life of their own such as the twelfth prelude Meri (“The Sea”) and the last one Sota (“The War”). As a whole, however, Palmgren's Twenty-four Preludes Op.17 are quite well worth hearing and I for one enjoyed this fairly substantial set enormously. 

The short May Night Op.27/4 is a good example of Palmgren as miniaturist. This is a fairly simple but quite effective vignette of great charm. 

This is a very fine release indeed for Henri Sigfridsson plays superbly, with commitment and impeccable technique and he obviously relishes every ounce of the music. The recording is excellent and Kimmo Korhonen's informative and detailed notes are yet another asset. 

In short this beautifully produced release should appeal to anyone with a liking for superbly crafted music in a warmly expressive Romantic idiom. I simply wish that the playing was somewhat more generous by inclusion of some other shorter works. 

Hubert Culot 

A very fine release well worth investigating by all those with a liking for warmly Romantic music.