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Energy and calm

Stirring musical waters, with BASIL RAMSEY

Naxos    8.553758

Einar Englund Orchestral Works (c) 1999 HNH International Ltd


Einar Englund, a Finnish composer who died last year at 83, was not well known outside Scandinavia. Maybe records such as this on a budget label will penetrate elsewhere. He had no compulsion to break new ground, finding all he needed in a language that admitted the freedom of pre-serial Stravinsky with some flavours of traditional music, maybe of his own land.

With some composers of similar inclination, output has been marred by staleness that often deprives music of its necessity to grow. Englund has a mindful vitality keeping the flow like water energised by the current.

Symphony 2 The Blackbird from 1948 -- the earliest here -- clearly demonstrates both Englund's energy and calm. A claim that this is one of the 'true' masterpieces of 20th century symphonic literature strikes me as a step too far. Satisfying as it is, the immense power beyond reach of most composers is not present. But it is a strong piece head and shoulders over many symphonies of the mid-century.

Englund's fourth symphony opens to a wider canvas and strides with greater determination. The landscape is at first grey [listen -- track 7, 0:00-0:51] and certainly the composer's grasp of the elements to be introduced is impressive, especially as the mood darkens to an even bleaker close.

I leave to last the piano concerto, which I'm surprised to discover is so appealing and yet obviously unknown outside Scandinavia. I have therefore chanced upon a work that could travel anywhere with a sure chance of a warm welcome [listen -- track 4, 0:00-0:52]. Englund wrote it for his own performance. The mood is often thoughtful, so the brilliance is sharper when it is unleashed. I notice that Bartók is seen as the influence: maybe, yet there is a good composer at work here with his own ideas, and the partnership between piano and orchestra has its basis in the older traditions.



Copyright © 22 November 2000 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK







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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews