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Heino ELLER (1887–1970)
Violin Concerto in B minor (1933-34, 1937, 1964) [23:16]
Symphonic Legend (1928, 1938) [23:54]
Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra (1916, orch. 1964) [6:18]
Symphony No. 2 (Unfinished): I. Andante. Allegro molto (1947) [13:44]
Baiba Skride (violin)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Olari Elts
rec. 2013-18
ONDINE ODE1321-2 [67:43]

It seems, and was, ages ago that I last reviewed a disc of Estonian Heino Eller's orchestral music. That disc from Bella Musica-Antes is still worth hunting down as it overlaps with this Ondine example only in relation to the single-movement 24-minute violin concerto. The Ondine recording is unflinchingly forward and vivid. Eller's Violin Concerto has about it much the same rhapsodic air as the concertos by Delius and Moeran and RVW's Lark. That Eller has attracted a world-class violinist in the gifted Baiba Skride is tribute to the composer and incidentally to the centenary of Estonia’s independence. This stampingly folksy, virtuosic and singing concerto was to have been premiered in June 1940 in Tallinn but, was withdrawn. It had to wait until March 1965 when Neeme Järvi conducted its premiere. Ondine tell us that during the 1980s it gained performances. It was recorded in 1984 by Viktor Pikaizen with the Estonian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peeter Lilje. It's a fine piece which despite its single movement and instinctive ways is very attractive and deserves to stand next to another Baltic state's violin concerto, that by Janis Ivanovs dating from eighteen years later.

Ondine tell us that Symphonic Legend, at about the same length as the Concerto, is Eller’s largest score before the First Symphony (1936). The premiere came about in June 1923 in Tartu but Eller made revisions in 1938. It's a lush, intensely romantic, leisurely rocking and then swell-tossed work. Its oceanic inclinations are indulged and are similar to those in Rachmaninov's The Rock and in mature Tchaikovsky and early Scriabin. It ends in a healing and contented stasis. The work here receives its first performance. Then comes another work for violin and orchestra. This short Fantasy, written in 1916, was orchestrated in 1964. It must have been quite an experience for the 77-year-old composer to do such work on a piece he had written when he was 29. It has the sound and generally lambent demeanour of the Glazunov Violin Concerto but more restful and less of the display. There are three Eller symphonies written between the 1930s and 1960s. The Second Symphony has only one movement surviving: its first. What there is of it is fantastic - an isolated spar of searing and symphonic moment, voluble excitement and full-hearted romantic heat. This may be a single movement from an intended larger work but the music takes wing and feels fully fledged. The performance by Elts and Estonia's national orchestra is more than equal to its challenges. It was not performed publicly until September 2012.

1940 was a fateful year for Eller. He had been professor at Tartu Higher School for Music since 1920. His distinguished legacy was in distinction to the Tallinn school guided by Artur Kapp. His students included Eduard Tubin, Vilem Kapp, Kaljo Raid, Jaan Rääts, Heino Jürisalu, Arvo Pärt, Lepo Sumera, Boris Parsadanian, Eduard Oja and Olav Roots. He was made a People's Artist of the USSR in 1967 just three years before his death. That apart, some hint of what Eller meant can be discerned in the words of Arvo Pärt: “[he] was much more than anything I can express in words. It was largely due to him that music in Estonia was able to achieve a cultural and professional dignity." Eller's piano music has been the subject of six Toccata classics volumes of which MWI has reviewed three (Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 6).

Ondine and Estonia can take satisfaction in this disc which whoops with joy and sighs with poetic sensibility.

Rob Barnett


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