Sebastian FAGERLUND (b. 1972)
Nomade for cello and orchestra (2018) [37:21]
Water Atlas (2017/2018) [20:14]
Nicolas Altstaedt (cello)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. 2019, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland
BIS BIS-2455 SACD [58:34]
Sebastian Fagerlund’s music has been so far reasonably well served on recordings, principally thanks to BIS. They have devoted several discs to his output: concertos, orchestral works and the opera Höstsonaten. Two substantial works on this disc add much to one’s appreciation of the composer’s music. Those who have already heard it will know that he is particularly at ease when handling large orchestral forces; these pieces are no exception.
The main work here – and, to my mind, a real masterpiece – is the substantial cello concerto Nomade dedicated to Nicolas Alstaedt and first performed by him and Hannu Lintu. As the title makes it clear, the piece maps a long though abstract journey: some sort of the soul’s road towards inner accomplishment. As might be expected, this journey is fraught with adversity and with hostility to be bravely surmounted, and the piece’s fairly simple structure reflects that. The concerto falls into six neatly differentiated movements grouped in pairs and separated by two interludes, and the whole is articulated around the fourth movement Lento contemplativo that may be regarded as the apex of the entire work.
The opening movement grows from the depths of the orchestra. The music progressively opens, gaining some considerable energy released in the second movement, a powerful Scherzo in all but the name. There follows the first short interlude launching into the short but highly charged third movement Vivace capriccioso, yet another Scherzo. This is followed by the only pause of the work. The music then ventures into the peaceful, meditative, almost mystical fourth movement Lento contemplativo, the work’s emotional heart. The second interlude leads into the fifth movement Espressivo, liberamente, in fact the concerto’s cadenza. The final movement Esaltato, molto agitato brings much contrast to the preceding cadenza, reaches a big climax and then gradually calms down “towards the mysterious ending, shrouded in the calm of twilight” (in Kimmo Korhonen the booklet note writer’s very apt words). It thus returns to the depths from where it emerged.
Nomade is a splendid piece of superbly crafted and strongly expressive music that generously repays repeated hearings. It is also a wonderful display of orchestral writing that manages not to obscure the often taxing but emotionally charged cello part. In short, Nomade is, as far as I am concerned, a great piece of music that deserves to rank amongst the finest cello concertos of our times, on par with those by Henri Dutilleux, Kenneth Leighton and Bernard Stevens, to name a few that come to mind.
Water Atlas is the third panel of the orchestral trilogy comprising Stonework (2014/2015) and Drifts (2016/2017). As the excellent, informative notes state, the three works are linked by the same basic material, but are independent and self-contained. Even so, they could be presented as a unified suite. It is now possible to imagine what the suite may be since both Stonework and Drifts have already been recorded (BIS-2295 SACD). I have yet to hear that disc to make up my mind about the trilogy but I enjoyed listening to Water Atlas, Fagerlund’s another brilliant orchestral display.
Like Nomade, Water Atlas is not a programmatic work. The water idea suggests a number of associations such as the eternal cycle of water and per se of life. (Water can also be brutal, violent and devastating, as recent events in Belgium, Germany and elsewhere in Europe and in the world amply show.) The powerful score reflects or suggests all that. After a fierce opening gesture, the music seems to freeze, and then it develops into contrasts and metamorphoses of all sorts. The composer described the piece as being in free rondo form in which a strong rhythmic theme returns constantly, but each time in a new way. This is no descriptive music but the handling of the basic material neatly suggests the various aspects of water: life-bringing, soft but also terrifying. Fagerlund’s orchestral mastery is evident throughout this wonderful piece of music, which deserves to be heard. I for one cannot wait to get the other orchestral discs, were it only to hear the entire trilogy.
The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the ever-faithful Hannu Lintu make the best of these often beautiful works, and the recording is up to the label’s best standards. No further recommendation is needed if you already know and appreciate Fagerlund’s music. The disc is warmly recommended to those who may still nourish doubts. The cello concerto Nomade is a must-hear.