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Heino ELLER (1887-1970)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 2
Sonatina in F sharp minor (later 1950s) [4:09]
Eight Pieces (1948) [16:21]
Furioso (c.1914) [4:30]
Allegro con fuoco (1914) [3:19]
Episode from Revolutionary Times (1917) [10:33]
Sostenuto in G minor (1909) [0:52]
Allegro moderato in C minor (1909) [1:16]
Chanson triste (1910) [1:36]
Andante in E major (1910) [2:03]
Larghetto in A major (1909) [2:37]
Preludes Book III (1921-33) [7:53]
Moderato assai (Theme and Variations) (1939) [11:04]
Estopnian Dance (1934) [5:26]
Sten Lassmann (piano)
rec. September 2009, The Old Granary Studio, Beccles, Suffolk, UK
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0132 [71:38]

The Estonian teacher and composer Heino Eller (1887-1970) wrote some two hundred works for piano and this is Toccata Classics’ second in a projected seven-disc series devoted to them (see review of Volume 1). Handsome is the devotion they are showing Eller.
 
The music in this disc ranges – just - over six decades, spanning the early genre pieces of 1909 to the Sonatina of the 1950s. His style is difficult to place. It’s immediately approachable, unacademic but is not frivolous; there are hints of Grieg and of Chopin, and there is a small but slight folkloric inheritance too. It’s the fresh Sonatina, composed at some time in the late 50s, that reveals the lyric freshness of his writing and the hints of folklore. There’s no development section as such, but this easy-going work is an ideal introduction to Eller, for whom nothing was doctrinaire. Light and bright characterises the Eight Pieces, written in the dangerous year of 1948. Short and pithy, most were newly minted but the Waltz from the set dates back to 1913. The Rondino is very much the longest and least festive but it too has a warm central panel and some wispy harmonies. No.6 of the set is based on an actual folk piece, the only one that is, whilst No.7 is decidedly Grieg-like.
 
It’s valuable to hear the run of early pieces written between 1909 and 1917. Some are somewhat generic – in fact the Furioso and the Allegro con fuoco are essentially the same side of the coin, only one is fierier than the other. Clearly Eller was channelling Lisztian virtuosity in this period and in the more reflective ones, Chopin. One piece stands apart, the big, brooding Episode from Revolutionary Times, a large-scale funeral march that opens like Liszt’s Sonata and offers a brief moment of reprieve along its gloomy process. It’s impressively sustained.
 
The third book of his Preludes contains four brief pieces, largely lugubrious – indeed No.2 is marked Lento, lugubre – composed over the period 1921-32. Things do lighten in the pleasing third piece, but the first is the one that contains the most hints of Eller’s tersely lyric and emotionally unreadable state of mind during this period of his life. Clearly Moderato assai is not as good a title as Theme and Variations, as Sten Lassmann’s notes agree, though in the composer’s defence this work has never been published and this is its first recording. It’s playful, sparkling and terpsichorean in places, and foists an amusing Canon in its sixth variation. To finish this enterprising and well-programmed recital there’s a bold Estonian Dance, a kind of highly compressed rhapsody.
 
Lassmann proves a faultless guide throughout this volume, relishing the opportunities for crispness and geniality provided by Eller.
 
Jonathan Woolf