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Jarnefelt piano ABCD506
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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

Armas Järnefelt was a new name to me, but Janne Oksanen’s booklet notes for this recording claims him as “arguably one of the most important national romantic composers in Finland.” He made his name as a conductor and was a great admirer and performer of Wagner, but as a Finnish composer his compositional work has inevitably been overshadowed by that of Jean Sibelius. This album brings us Järnefelt’s complete music for piano, and the majority of these pieces are heard here as world premiere recordings.

The influence of Wagner is apparent to a certain extent in the virtuoso Allegro con brio that is the third of the Op. 4 set that opens this programme. Järnefelt doesn’t go in for heavy chromaticism here or elsewhere, but there is a grandness of gesture that clearly also shows an affinity for the style of Schumann and Liszt. The playful character of Praeludium ensured its popularity in Finland and beyond, the original orchestral work arranged here for piano by Otto Taubman, and with the composer’s own version for four hands appearing later on. The Berceuse, originally for violin and orchestra, has an expressive melodic directness that has made it one of his best-known works.

All of the pieces here are approachable and attractive, and Järnefelt always has enough originality of touch to keep everything interesting enough that you will want to hear it all more than once. The simplicity of some of the titles can be deceptive, with the Waltz in F major boasting some intriguing harmonies and surprisingly tricky technical fireworks. Evidence for Järnefelt’s melodic gifts can be found everywhere here, but Eltzebas klagan, written as incidental music for a play, is haunting both for its elongated lyrical top line and also for the spare, pizzicato texture of the accompaniment. Most of these pieces are between two and four minutes long at most, so at nine minutes the Theme and Variations is the longest here. This is a serious and weighty piece from the composer’s younger years, its five variations building on a memorable but quite melancholy theme to an energetic penultimate final variation and a poignant coda that restates the theme.

There are some impressive and highly effective arrangements of pieces by other composers here, the qualities in these pieces chiming in with Järnefelt’s own stylistic inclinations, and the two Fugues are survivals from his student years. Lapsuuden ajoilta translates as ‘From the times of childhood’, and it integrates Finnish folk tunes into a substantial fantasy. The programme concludes with music by his daughter Eva Järnefelt, who was a pianist and piano teacher. These delightful miniatures are included as bonus tracks, but even with the influence of Chopin and her father in evidence these are more than just musical tokens, and certainly reveal a talent in petto.

The piano sound for this recording is rich and satisfyingly well-balanced, with a more ‘concert-hall’ than ‘head under the lid’ perspective, but still with all the detail and vibrancy you could ask for. Played with commitment and sparkling musicality, this is a reference resource for yet another neglected composer and one that is well worth having.

Dominy Clements

Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869–1958)
Etude, Op. 4 No. 1 [1:20]
Waltz in E Minor, Op. 4 No. 2 [2:31]
Allegro con brio, Op. 4 No. 3 [3:43]
Praeludium (Arr. Taubman for Piano) [3:07]
Berceuse (Arr. for Piano) [2:33]
Waltz in F Major [3:35]
Valse lente “Vasti” [3:43]
Elitzebas klagan [2:56]
Theme and Variations [9:04]
Porilaisten marssi (arr. Järnefelt) [2:35]
Armaasta erotessa (Eduard HERMES (1818-1905) arr. Järnefelt) [3:31]
Tonerna (Wilhelm LAGERCRANTZ (1825-1886) arr. Järnefelt) [1:59]
Sirkka (arr. Melartin) [1:14]
Titania (arr. Palmgren) [1:39]
Solsken (arr. Palmgren) [2:32]
Fugue in D Major [1:20]
Fugue in G Minor [2:57]
Praeludium for Piano 4 Hands [3:04]
Lapsuuden ajoilta for Piano 4 Hands [8:52]
Eva JÄRNEFELT (1901–1995)
Albumblatt [1:12]
Meinem lieben Vater gewidmet [0:48]
Barcarole [1:18]

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