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This is a strange CD set, it seems more an academic exercise, or even an accompaniment the Staffan Biörklund-Jullander’s 2004 thesis on classical piano improvisation for his Master of Arts degree he earned from the Royal College of Music in Gothenburg, an abbreviated version of which, in English, makes up the vast majority of the 52-page enclosed booklet, than a survey of the composer pianists compositions.
Staffan Biörklund-Jullander was born in Stockholm, where after his compulsory music classes, he entered the Royal College of Music at the age of 16, completing his studies there seven years later. There then came a period of teaching piano, performing, both as soloist and accompanist, and church musician, he is also an organist. During this period, he also composed and undertook further studies as mentioned above, becoming the music director of the Gustaf Adolf’s Church in Borås, where he now lives. He writes of the music presented in this set that “All music (except Bellman) on this double CD is either improvised or composed by me. Part in a freer form, others with a more solid structure. As a bonus, there is an arrangement of the first movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which I did for choir and piano. My relationship to the art of improvisation has, over the years as a musician, followed me like a shadow.”
It is difficult, especially on the first CD, to uncover the composer himself, even in the four short Concert Etudes that open the set, you get a sense that here is a composer writing personal reflections of other composers, Rachmaninov comes to mind. Then come the five Improvisations on Härlig är Jorden, these are clever and attractive pieces, sometimes with a sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed the fourth of these pieces, that in the style of Debussy, you get a real sense of understanding of understanding the French masters art. Improvisation on Bereden väg för Herran and Improvisation on Happy Birthday are recorded live, this leads to a more recessed recorded sound, especially in the firs piece, whilst the rapturous applause that follows the Birthday variations reflects the added humour that Staffan Biörklund-Jullander puts into this piece. The Swedish poet and troubadour Carl Michael Bellman features on this disc purely to introduce Biörklund-Jullander’s own improvisations, this time in the style of Mozart, of Ja, må han leva, a well-known tune in Sweden.
The second CD contains Biörklund-Jullander’s set of six Meditation’s, a series of slow, contemplative and quiet pieces, I had to turn the volume up, each of which is around ten minutes long, and perhaps here we get more to the heart of the composer. That being said, from the beginning of the first you can feel the outside influences on this music. They were composed especially for a CD release in 2015 of “tranquil and meditative music”. The composer seems at home in this sort of music, as a Google search brings up a 2009 release entitled Quiet Days (FMF CD 1336), that also presents six pieces of a similar length with titles that point to music for relaxation. Biörklund-Jullander states that he decided on a particular mood and then writing music to suit. There is a French influence, especially in the first Meditation, as the music puts me in mind of La Belle Époch, however, the composer’s personality does come to the fore in the music of this second disc more than it did on the first. The composer has achieved what he set out to do, with the disc presenting an hour of quiet contemplative music.
As an added bonus we get a third disc, which to me seems an extravagance, as the seven and a half minutes could have easily fitted on either of the other two CDs. The disc presents an arrangement of the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 for choir and piano, a vocalise that you could imagine the likes of the Swingle Singers revelling in. It was arranged especially for the Nikolai Kammarkör, who perform it here with the composer at the piano and is recorded live. The sound here is once again not as good as the rest of the music recorded here.
The set is interesting, especially disc one when illustrated by the parts of the thesis that relate to the music. The thesis is just that, a thesis, and as such is a little dry and academic, more information about disc two would have been nice. The sound and performance are both good except during the live performances as already highlighted.
1. Concert Etude 1, E flat minor [1.08]
2. Concert Etude 2, E flat major [1.08]
3. Concert Etude 3, C sharp minor [1.01]
4. Concert Etude 4, F sharp minor [1.49]
Improvisations on Härlig är Jorden in five different styles
5. I. In style of Mozart [4.27]
6. II. In style of Bartók/Stravinsky [4.56]
7. III. In style of Chopin [3.45]
8. IV. In style of Debussy [7.12]
9. V. In style of Liszt [7.49]
10. Improvisation on Bereden väg för Herran [6.16]
11. Improvisation on Happy Birthday [6.01]
Carl Michael BELLMAN (1740-1795)
12. Ja, må han leva [1.04]
13. Improvisation on Ja, må han leva, in style of Mozart [4.24]