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Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869-1958)
Ouverture lyrique (1890) [10:26]
Korsholm (1894) [17:30]
Berceuse (1904) [3:28]
Praeludium (1899-1900) [2:47]
Music from Sången om den eldröda blomman (1919) [13:35]
Music from Det förlovade landet (1907/1919) [14:23]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Koivula
rec. Orkestersale, Gävle, October/November 1996
STERLING CDS1021-2 [62:53]

Since the 1920s Armas Järnefelt has never been completely unknown to music-lovers. This Finnish composer, conductor and pianist was brother-in-law to Jean Sibelius and wrote two miniatures that kept his name dancing on the right side of oblivion. His Praeludium was among Henry Wood's early studio ventures and has been reissued on CD several times. The same work kept Järnefelt's name in the public eye and was included in a 1970s 'Nordic pops' LP (HMV ASD 2952) from Paavo Berglund. This was later reissued as part of a Scandinavian box. As for the soulful Berceuse - the obverse of Praeludium's cheery coinage - it exists in many arrangements as a quick search of YouTube will reveal.

Järnefelt as a composer has been the subject of two notable entries on CD. There is a generous and attractive Bis disc where the Lahti Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Jaakko Kuusisto. Add to this the present Sterling disc first issued in 1996. It complements the Bis volume with the only duplication being the two 'pops'.

Perceptions of the range and quality of Järnefelt's musical presence have been transformed by a recently issued ten-disc box by Fuga (review follows). The Fuga set is the result of a diligent labour of love by Carl-Gunnar Åhlén in drawing together so many obscure commercial and radio archive tapes. It includes no fewer than three whole CDs of Järnefelt conducting Sibelius. Åhlén is no newcomer to this sphere having already had books on Jón Leifs and Tor Mann published in Swedish by Atlantis. Each book is accompanied by at least one illustrative CD.

The Ouverture lyrique is an affable little concert overture: cheery and untroubled by malign imps. It's an atmospheric Mendelssohnian piece with nationalistic ideals lofted along by some nice woodwind writing. It's not at all hot-headed. When it moves into vaguely stern territory it leans on Brahms. It takes a confident composer to do what Järnefelt does here: he ends the overture in relaxation rather than drama.

Korsholm is a dramatic symphonic poem for large orchestra, probably reflecting the fanciful medievalism of the 14th century Finnish court of that name. It has some strong Sibelian resonances in the woodwind writing, in accelerating storms and in a mysterious part for the harp. This music has some military elements and substantial sweeping romantic pages for the full string body. It ends in courtly grandeur. Korsholm has been broadcast several times in BBC Radio 3's Through the Night programme in a radio studio version by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Ulf Söderblom.

The solo violin in Berceuse is taken by the orchestra's leader Anders Jakobsson who makes it sound like a melancholic sketch for Sibelius's Valse Triste. The Praeludium seems to define the word 'jaunty' and parallels writing in the Ouverture.

The music from Sången om den eldröda blomman (Song of the Crimson Flower - what a title) was written for a Swedish film in 1919. This lively and enjoyable music has a very distinctive Sibelian sound especially in the Shooting the Rapids episode. Echoes of the Second Symphony can be heard. The busy and brief Fight scene has a few moments recalling the Lemminkäinen Suite. Then come three sections from Järnefelt's cantata: The Promised Land. The Introduction - Israel's Captivity is a quietly expressed triumph of measured melancholy; it’s inward, sincere and without dazzle. Elizabeth's Lament continues the mood with a concentrated oboe solo prominent. The disc ends in complete contrast with an attractive Dance - more exotic Massenet this time rather than Sibelius; after all Sibelius wrote an Oriental Dance for his music for Belshazzar's Feast. This is closer to lively commercial music; not quite as far as Ketèlbey but lunging in that direction. It would go well in any collection of Finnish light music.

The recorded sound is open and exciting with plenty of punch. I noticed a slightly recessed quality for the Sången om den eldröda blomman but this is easily redressed by increasing the volume slightly.

The notes for the present disc are by Heikki Saari and are in Swedish, Finnish and flowingly idiomatic English.

There we have it: a cleverly balanced cross-section of Järnefelt's orchestral music. Nothing devastatingly impressive but everything here is a pleasure to hear whether nationalist drama, memorable miniatures or solemn gravitas. Your curiosity will be aroused and satisfied by this kindly, capable romantic music.

Rob Barnett



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