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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Variétude (1974) [5:35]
Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Solo I (Tumultos) (1975) [11:27]
Sonata per Violino Solo (1973) [22:41]
Per Henrik NORDGREN (1944-2008)
Sonata for violin solo Op. 104 (1999) [9:35]
Kalevi AHO
In Memoriam Per Henrik Nordgren (2009) [10:12]
Renate Eggebrecht (violin)
rec. Clara-Wieck-Auditorium Sandhausen, Germany, 2017
Violin Solo - Volume 10
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01452 [59:39]

This CD brings together music from three composers from what has been described as the post-Sibelius generation of Finnish music, that is composers who compose in a more modern, some might say avant-garde idiom. Whilst the names of Einojuhani Rautavaara and Kalevi Aho are becoming fairly well known, that of Per Henrik Nordgren is still relatively unknown, in the UK at least, I only have one disc of his music, a wonderful recording of his last two string quartets, numbers 10 and 11, on Alba (ABCD 308).

Of the three composers Rautavaara is the best know with his symphonies, concertos and large-scale works gaining popularity in the past twenty-five years or so, but it is only recently that I have started to become acquainted with his smaller pieces. Variétude was written for a competition to produce a compulsory piece for the 1975 International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, winning first prize. This short piece certainly challenges the abilities of the soloist, as it starts from a position of relative safety but soon becomes more agitated, exploring the full range of the instrument, and of the performer, as it goes, with passages of very high bow work and short sections of pizzicato as it progresses before ending with a single plucked note. It is an intriguing and technically demanding short piece, one that Renate Eggebrecht meets head on.

Born on the Swedish speaking island of Åland, Per Henrik Nordgren studied musicology at Helsinki University whilst also receiving private lessons in composition from Joonas Kokkonen and violin from Onni Subonen, it was the latter’s knowledge of the chamber music tradition that was to have a lasting impression on the composer. After graduating, he studied in Tokyo University with Yoshio Hasegawa. This introduced the composer to Japanese music which, along with the Twelve-Tone Technique and Ligeti’s use of tone clusters, would have a lasting influence on Nordgren’s compositional style, stating that “I have, in my work, had a single purpose, to combine different impressions and thus find my own voice.” He does this to an extent in his Sonata for Violin Solo which is a compact single movement piece, one that deserves greater acclaim, with this is its première recording. It opens with a short melody that represents a well-known Finnish folk tune in the form of a dirge and relates to the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Nordgren says of the work that “One might call this one-movement sonata a fantasy or variation on its underlying dirge.” He then moves away from the folk element with “an aggressive outburst” and some intense writing before the music slowly fades to “fulfilled silence”. This is both a challenging and a rewarding work, for performer and listener alike, one which I have enjoyed greatly.

The greatest part of this disc is dedicated to the music of Kalevi Aho, indeed it is his photograph that features on the cover of this disc. He has been described as Finland’s most significant living composer and was a student of Einojuhani Rautavaara with this being one of the links of this disc. During his career he has gone from the Neo-Classicism of Shostakovich and Stravinsky of his early works, moving towards Modernism, Post-Modernism and free tonality in his later works. Aho has a particular musical philosophy, believing that music should be on a universal level, and not just an outpouring of the composer’s personal emotion. The three works featured here span thirty-six years, with the third piece, which is also the final piece on the disc, representing the second link as it is in the form of a wonderful heart-felt memorial to Nordgren. The most important of these works is actually the earliest, the Sonata per Violino Solo of 1873, which is in four movements with the first of these being nearly as long as the other three combined. This is a wonderful work, one that calls for all the soloist’s abilities, and includes some stratospherically high violin writing. This was followed two years later by the first of his Solo pieces, he is now up to Solo XIII, with each of the pieces being for a different solo instrument, this is, in common with the other Solo pieces that I have on disc, another mesmerising piece with some fiendish passages for the performer to navigate.

This is a wonderful disc, one in which Renate Eggebrecht meets every challenge she faces from this music head on; her playing is excellent throughout, she plays the tone progressions with clarity adding just enough portamento when called upon to do so. The sound is also very good, whilst the booklet notes, well, when else do you get nine pages of detailed and informative documentation. This disc is a must for all devotees of modern Finnish music, a most rewarding CD.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank




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