Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869–1958)
Complete Piano Works
Janne Oksanen (piano)
Risto-Matti Marin (piano 4 hands)
rec. 10-11 August 2021, Sibelius-sali, Järvenpää-talo, Järvenpää, Finland
ALBA RECORDS ABCD506 [65:34]
Sibelius has overshadowed Finnish music quite effectively and though a few of his contemporaries are beginning to be heard outside of their homeland, one thinks of Selim Palmgrem, Armas Järnefelt is generally only known for one work, his Praeludium though he wrote several orchestral works and many vocal and choral ones including some 70 plus songs. He was an accomplished pianist and often accompanied his two wives, the soprano Maikka Järnefelt and later the opera singer Olivia Edström, in recital and made some recordings in the early 78rpm era as an accompanist. In addition there is a radio broadcast of him playing his Berceuse, presumably in the arrangement included here. Despite this there is not a lot of original music for the piano in his output and most of it seems to be from his early years; to fill the disc Janne Oksanen has chosen some idiomatic arrangements as well as three short pieces by the composer's daughter Eva Järnefelt.
There is certainly no doubting Järnefelt's pianistic credentials in the early suite of three pieces that form his op.4 and mostly certainly in the stunning etude that opens the disc, a brief but devilish study in interlinked hands, effortlessly played by Oksanen. The second piece, a somewhat melancholy waltz that explores several keys and some whole tone harmonies, is the first of three very attractive salon waltzes on this disc. A grand allegro con brio with its hints of Schumann is an heroic piece full of big chordal work and octaves. The longest original work here is the brooding Theme and Variations that Järnefelt wrote in his student days. There are hints of Grieg and definite echoes of Beethoven's C minor Variations in some of the writing, notably the second variation with its many trills. A spirited march, variation 3, is followed by a nocturnal variation in the major key. A virtuosic and decisive variation leads to a repeat of the elegiac theme and the work closes in quiet repose. Two fugues are also from his student days and are playful and stately by turns. The fugues may just be student works but it seems odd that after the skillful and inventive works already heard Järnefelt seems to have lost interest in the piano solo genre.
There are a couple of piano duet works but again one is an arrangement of perhaps his most famous work, the praeludium for orchestra. I confess that I had never heard the original – hitherto my only knowledge of Järnefelt was from accompanying his delightful song Nina – but with two versions here I am a lot more familiar with it now. The solo version is by Otto Taubmann, a Hamburg born composer who made many arrangements in addition to his output of vocal and choral stageworks and Järnefelt is responsible for the duet version played here with pianist Risto-Matti Marin. The other piano duet is the only other large work here, though it is barely 9 minutes long. Lapsuuden ajoilta, from the times of childhood, is a fantasy on three Finnish folktunes which is wonderfully entertaining though the duettists are apparently not given the easiest of tasks with the layout of the notes. Two more of Järnefelt's works appear in his own arrangements, the sparsely accompanied Elitzebas klagen from the incidental music to the play the promised land, its long melody riding over pizzicato chords and the bombastic Porilaisten March. He also set Eduard Hermes' choral song Armaasta erotessa, with its Mendelssohnian central part played in the style of Rubinstein's Melody in F, thumbs alternating on the melody while shades of Schubert's Moment Musical no. 2 are found in the arrangement of Lagercrantz's lovely song Tonerna. Of Järnefelt's many songs three are transcribed by other pianists; like Järnefelt, Erkki Melartin studied under Martin Wegelius (1846-1906), founder of the Helsinki Music Institute which was to become the Sibelius Academy. Melartin's many piano works include this charming little arrangement of the choral song Sirkka – cricket. Selim Palmgren is perhaps the best-known Finnish composer after Sibelius; one connection to Järnefelt is that he married his first wife, the singer Marie 'Maikki' Järnefelt – and with Järnefelt's sister Aino marrying Sibelius there are strong musical connections all round. Both of Palmgren's arrangements are joyful and virtuosic, Titiana full of arabesques and Solsken, sunshine, has echoes of Godowsky's transcription of Strauss' Ständchen and heaps of Liszt in its wonderful writing; one of the highlights of the disc for me.
As an appendix there are three very brief pieces by Järnefelt's daughter Eva, all of them very welcome. Albumblatt is full of autumnal melancholy and Meinem lieben Vater gewidnet almost seems to take a Chopin Mazurka and take it through a variety of keys. The gentle Barcarole that closes the disc is dedicated to Sibelius' daughter Katarina.
This is a winner of a disc. The music is attractive and charming, dramatic and full of character and even if there are no earth-shattering discoveries here Janne Oksanen plays it all as if they are. He received favourable reviews for his complete Toivo Kuula Piano music (Alba ABCD445 review) and I find him equally praiseworthy here, accomplished and sensitive, and recorded in excellent sound. As with the Kuula disc he has also written the informative liner notes to this disc.
Previous review: Dominy Clements
Etude Op.4 No.1 (1896?) [1:20]
Waltz in E minor Op.4 No.2 (1896?) [2:31]
Allegro con brio Op.4 No.3 (1896?) [3:43]
Berceuse arr. by Järnefelt (1904) [2:33]
Waltz in F major [3:35]
Vasti – Valse lente [3:43]
Elitzebas klagen [2:56]
Theme and variations (c.1893) [9:04]
Porilaisten Marssi arr. by Järnefelt [2:35]
Fugue in D major [1:20]
Fugue in G minor [2:57]
Praeludium arr. 4 hands by Järnefelt [3:04]*
Lapsuuden ajoilta for 4 hands [8:52]*
Armas JÄRNEFELT arr. Otto TAUBMAN (1859-1929)
Armas JÄRNEFELT arr. Erkki MELARTIN (1875-1937)
Armas JÄRNEFELT arr. Selim PALMGREN (1878-1951)
Eduard HERMES (1818-1905) arr. Armas JÄRNEFELT
Armaasta erotessa [3:31]
Wilhelm LAGERCRANTZ (1825-1886) arr.Armas JÄRNEFELT
Eva JÄRNEFELT (1901-1995)
Meinem lieben Vater gewidnet [0:48]