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Heino ELLER (1887-1970)
Symphonic Poems

Night Calls (1920-21) [17:39]
White Nights, symphonic suite (1939) [28:56]
Twilight (1917) [5:09]
Dawn (1918/1920) [7:42]
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Olari Elts
rec. 2018/19, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
ONDINE ODE1335-2 [59:26]

Ondine has been doing great things on behalf of Heino Eller of late. Their recent Violin Concerto disc (review) alerted one to the excellence of Olari Elts’ direction and now it’s reprised in the latest offering that covers the compositional years between 1918 and 1939.

Night Calls is an 18-minute nature study. Inspiration was provided by a storm Eller witnessed and the work references a soupçon of Mussorgsky in its glowering bleakness and sense of anticipation. Lightning flashes are imaginatively orchestrated and there are stirring near-spectral paragraphs and a strong sense of musical characterisation throughout. Fortunately, it’s not all glower as there’s a yearning second theme along with percussion-led drama, ripe syncopation and dramatic skirl. After renewed lyricism the forces of nature return – implacable night terror.

On a significantly larger canvas is White Night a seven-movement piece with two panels, sharing the work’s title, beginning and ending the symphonic suite. The writing is refined, lyric, Nationalistic. It enshrines stylised Estonian dance patterns, songful nostalgic cantilena, vibrancy both of colour and rhythm – try the Camp Fire movement – and lashings of genial and effective writing. There’s a martial section and a cyclical return to the music’s opening.

The two brief remaining pieces are among Eller’s most popular and contain in miniature those elements that make the large-scale works so invigorating. Twilight has an obvious lyrical appeal and is cast in a lighter style. Dawn is somewhat longer and the most exultantly and exuberantly lyric piece in the album – a concise yet stirring mini-drama that would be the best place to start if coming to Eller for the first time. It encapsulates all the richness that he found in nature – pretty much everything here, in that context, is saturated in a kind of pantheistic love and awareness of the natural world – cogently constructed in eight small sections but in a way that is both immediate and memorable.

There is a Bella Musica album of the Violin Concerto and symphonic poems (review) that includes Twilight and Dawn. Twilight is also on a Chandos twofer of Estonian music and is rather more relaxed than Elts’ more thrusting reading. The performances are cast in the same stirring and generous mould and have been warmly recorded. Booklet documentation is equally first class. Add this to your Eller collection without delay.

Jonathan Woolf

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