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France Ellegaard (piano)
The Great Danish Pianist
Timo Mikkilä (second piano)
Anja Ignatius (violin)
rec. 1954-66
DANACORD DACOCD897-898 [79:21 + 79:53]

Danish pianist France Ellegaard (1913-1999) has already been represented on the first two volumes of Danacord’s ‘Three Great Danish Woman Pianists’ marque (DACOCD 442-3 and 481-2) but now it’s time for her to have a volume to herself. It seems only reasonable given her distinction and the fact that her compatriot Victor Schiøler is up to volume 5 in the series dedicated to him.

All the performances here come from Finnish Broadcasting programmes given between 1954 and 1966 by which point she had settled in Finland where she had given concerts since 1933. The major focus of the first of the two discs – where almost everything is by Palmgren - must be the two concertos. She plays No.2 ‘The River’ with Nils-Eric Fougstedt in 1955 – a conductor much admired by Sibelius. This was a concerto taken up by Ignaz Friedman who then taught it to his pupil, Schiøler, who in his turn played it across Europe from 1925 onwards. Ellegaard and Fougstedt take a somewhat more expansive view than Schiøler and Thomas Jensen were to do in their own 1962 broadcast (see review) but it’s no less evocative a reading and Ellegaard’s dappled elegance is very persuasive. She brings out the crystalline beauty of the river’s rapids with beautiful filigree. Fine tonal range and a judicious balance between piano and orchestra ensures the music’s gorgeous romanticism is safely manoeuvred.

Palmgren’s Concerto No.4, subtitled ‘April’, was recorded for broadcast in April 1966 with the Finnish Radio Symphony here conducted by Paavo Berglund. The music embraces the Debussian as well as drama and pastoral lyricism, a more obviously episodic work than the superior Second Concerto but likeable in its bright, eager and whole-tone warmth. She plays it with great acuity and Berglund, who had succeeded Fougstedt, directs impressively. She also plays Palmgren’s Piano Sonata in D minor, where Rachmaninov and Grieg are held in happy balance, with the finest commitment; this was a work she long promoted. She plays the second panel of Youth, Op.28, called Isle of Shadows, a slice of impressionism, and with Timo Mikkilä as second pianist, Masked Ball, Op.36. The four movements offer effusive charm as well as plenty of evocative punch and it’s not surprising to know that Palmgren and Percy Grainger played this together in New York. The odd man out at the end of the first disc is Karl Flodin whose brief Eclogue from Summer was written in 1900.

Disc 2 opens with a stylish and musical Mozart Concerto No.20 with Fougstedt (Helsinki, 1954) notable for the inclusion of her own very effective romantically-orientated cadenzas in the outer movements (there’s a very brief buckle in the tape at 12:25 in the first movement). It’s known that she composed but none of her works has yet seemingly come to light. Flodin is also represented in the second disc with his Suite mignonne, also composed in 1900, a five-movement charmer; lighthearted, sensitively warm and nimbly characterised. Ellegaard, as throughout this twofer, plays beautifully. Finally, there are two pieces that will gladden the hearts of all those who admire Anja Ignatius, one of the heroines of the Sibelius Violin Concerto discography whose recording is quite unlike any other (see review). She and Ellegaard were part of a piano trio with cellist Pentti Rautawaara from 1961-65 but in the two pieces here it’s as a duo that we encounter Ignatius and Ellegaard. Thomas Byström was a Finnish composer and military officer and a pupil of J.W. Kässler, himself a pupil of C.P.E. Bach. The second of his three Op.1 violin sonatas offers considerable demands for the busy pianist and rich lyric opportunities for both players. Ignatius’ slim and vibrato-limited tone is perfectly suited. The other sonata is that by Taneli Kuusisto, director of the Sibelius Academy and a colleague of both players who taught there. His 1944 sonata is a fluently conceived, emotively variegated work of some expressive intimacy, nuanced, wistful and at times forceful. There’s a defined nationalist element in the finale in particular, where Ignatius’ tonal sweetness and Ellegaard’s superb pianism bring passion and command.

Jesper Buhl is yet again to be congratulated for his sleeve notes and production, as is Claus Byrith for his restorations. I hope there are more Ellegaard-Ignatius tapes extant and that their trio’s broadcasts have survived. Ignatius, in particular, had such a small and almost exclusively Sibelian discography that anything by her will be of exceptional interest to collectors.

Jonathan Woolf
Selim PLAMGREN (1878-1951)
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 33 ‘The River’ (1913) [23:08]
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nils-Eric Fougstedt
Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 85 ‘April’ (1926) [19:43]
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund, Conductor
Piano Sonata in D Minor, Op. 11 (1901) [15:43]
Lyric Pieces: Youth, Op. 28 (1909) [5:30]
Masked Ball for Two Pianos, Op. 36 (1913) [12:54]
Karl FLODIN (1858-1925)
Summer, four piano pieces: No. 2, Eglogue (1900) [1:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, KV 466 (1785) [31:06]
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nils-Eric Fougstedt
Thomas BYSTRÖŐM (1772-1839)
Sonata for Keyboard and Violin in G Minor, Op. 1 No. 2 (1797) [14:17]
Taneli KUUSISTO (1905-1988)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in B Minor, Op. 36 (1944) [19:58]
Suite mignonne (1900) [14:17]

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