Heino ELLER (1887-1970)
Violin Concerto (1933-34 rev. 1937, 1964) [23:16]
Symphonic Legend (1923 rev. 1938) [23:54]
Fantasy in G Minor for violin and orchestra (1916 rev. 1964) [6:18]
Symphony No.2 (unfinished) (1947) [13:44]
Baiba Skride (violin)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Olari Elts
rec. 2013-18, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
ONDINE ODE1321-2 [67:43]
Heino Eller’s was the first Estonian Violin Concerto. Composed between 1933 and 1934, it was revised in 1937, slated for premiere in 1940 and then withdrawn, only to resurface in 1965 when it was played in Tallinn by Vladimir Alumäe and conducted by Neeme Järvi. A recording has survived of this performance and there is also a CD of Viktor Pikaizen playing it with Peeter Lilje. One difference between the archive copy, the commercial disc and this Ondine release is that nearly 200 bars snipped from the coda in 1965 have been restored, allowing us to hear the ‘real deal’ for the first time on disc.
If you’re unsure about Eller, be reassured. This Concerto is a generous and lyrical work that shoves aside the orchestral introduction as if it’s of no account and sends the soloist almost immediately into a compact cadenza. With skirling lyricism and vital electricity coursing throughout its veins, Eller gifts the soloists an unruffled and elegant line to spin. It’s also a warmly orchestrated piece and with a clever recapitulation it’s nicely structured too. The major cadenza occurs toward the end of the work, naturally, and there’s more than a hint of giocoso in the freewheeling bravado of the writing. Baiba Skride, always an unruffled player, and one never prone to false gestures, proves immaculate here and throughout and her partnership with Olari Elts and the Estonian National Symphony is just as impressive.
The Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra is an early work, composed in 1916 for violin and piano but orchestrated nearly half a century later. Its easygoing lyricism makes an immediate appeal.
The Symphonic Legend, which lasts as long as the Concerto, clocking in at just under 24 minutes, was premiered in 1923 and revised in 1938. Its gentle undulations powerfully suggest a mythic moonlit lakescape, and its narrative is ingeniously descriptive. This pastoral glitter and glimmer segue into a brief folk dance before Scriabinesque chromaticism infiltrates the scene. Some of the later reminiscences are torrid in their intensity – there is a dramatically pulsating waltz, for instance – and almost Korngoldian in richness. But aptly, and cyclically, the music finally dissolves into the stillness of the opening scene; was it all a dream?
In the face of repression Eller abandoned his 1947 Second Symphony after just one movement so that what remains is merely a 14-minute torso. Premiered in this form in 2012, it makes a pendant to this album but an intense one. Its opening Andante section with its quiet and refined material soon leads to a more athletic Allegro molto with a characteristically lyrical second subject. There is plenty of motor energy too as well as insouciant phrasing not a million miles away from a Walton-Shostakovich axis.
The studio engineer who oversaw that 1965 première of the Violin Concerto has said that it was ‘due to Eller that music in Estonia was able to achieve a cultural and professional dignity’. That engineer was Arvo Pärt, and this disc, beautifully played and recorded, splendidly documented, shows the profound truth of his statement.
Previous review: Rob Barnett