Monday, 7 March 2016

A new recording from Divine Art of chamber works by Jonathan Östlund reveals a composer with an ability to create works that are magical, playful and energetic but always with a distinctive sound

Swedish composer Jonathan Östlund received a BA and MA in Composition at Lulea University of Technology, in Sweden, studying under the guidance of Professor Rolf Martinsson, Professor Jan Sandstrom and Professor Sverker Jullander.

Östlund has had several of his works chosen to be part of the London Schubert Players Invitation to Composers and was 2012 finalist of the Oslo Grieg Festival, winning the Public’s Choice Award for his Sonata for Cello & Piano Night-struck, premiered by Alexandr Zagorinsky and Einar Steen-Nøkleberg.

He was awarded first prize in the Leicester Symphony Orchestra Composers’ Composition with his Celebration Fanfare & Procession which was premiered during the Leicester Symphony Orchestra’s 90th Season Gala. In 2013, his composition Lumière d’Étoiles received a world premiere in the U.K. and a French Premiere. In the same year he was a finalist in the Composers’ Competition of the Festival Mondial De L’Image Sous-Marine.

In 2014 a number of Jonathan Östlund’s works were performed at London’s Cadogan Hall and in 2015 his work Ethereal Night’s Ascendance for symphony orchestra won a special mention in the IBLA Grand Prize Competition in which he was also appointed to the Most Distinguished Musician category.

Divine Art Recordings  have recently released a 2 CD set of instrumental and chamber works by Jonathan Östlund entitled Lunaris, performed by the Cellini Quartet , Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu (lyric soprano) , Alexander Zagorinsky (cello) , Lydia Hillerudh (cello) , Ariel Jacob Lang (violin), Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (piano) , Eleonore Pameijer (flute) , Blandine Waldmann (piano) , Yoana Karemova (piano) and Ursula Leveaux (bassoon)

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Lunaris, for lyric soprano and piano, opens with bird calls and the sound of running water before soprano Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu vocalises around Blandine Waldmann’s piano line. Cleverly the lines of the soprano and piano complement the sounds of nature in this brief but evocative little work.

Opus Pocus Fantienne brings together flautist, Eleonore Pameijer and pianist, Yoana Karemova. The work opens with heavy piano chords before the flute joins to move the music ahead with the piano driving the music and flute adding freely played phrases. Eventually the music finds more of a flow before a slower middle section where a lovely flute melody is finely drawn by these players. The music picks up momentum to lead to the coda. This is a distinctive and very engaging piece.

The same artists return for Phantasion where the flute rises languidly over a gently meandering piano line. Midway Eleonore Pameijer brings an extended solo passage, weaving some very fine ideas before the piano rejoins to have its own moment of freely developed flow. The flute re-joins to take this beguiling work to its conclusion.

Air dans l'air (Air in the air) brings Eleonore Pameijer as solo flautist; rising up to weave a fine melody before the music gains a rhythmic, dancing nature, which in itself gains a flow through some terrific passages, superbly played here. Surely a piece for any flautist to take up.

Blandine Waldmann is the pianist in the solo piano work, Lumière d’etoiles (Star Light). In two movements, I. brings a hint of Shostakovich’s piano style at its most manic and wild before changing to a slow flowing melody. However, soon the opening energy returns as the two themes are set against each other with the faster theme leading to the coda. II. opens with a slow, broad theme picked out by the pianist and soon developed through some delicate, finely decorated passages. Here Östlund reveals a rather more personal sound. The music rises in passion before falling gently with bird sounds appearing in the gentle coda.

Fantasia on Scarborough Fair for flute, cello and piano is an attractive set of variations on the well-known tune to which these players, Eleonore Pameijer (flute) Lydia Hillerudh (cello) and Yoana Karemova (piano)  bring some fine textures and decorations in this work that is full of fine ideas.

Rencontre (Meet) for flute and piano brings a complete contrast with a Latin rhythm as flautist, Eleonore Pameijer and pianist, Yoana Karemova dance ahead, this flautist soon weaving some fine flourishes against an ever changing piano line. This is another very engaging piece.

The Wizard brings together flautist, Eleonore Pameijer; violinist, Ariel Jacob Lang; cellist, Lydia Hillerudh and pianist Blandine Waldmann. The cello opens with a rising theme to which the flute, then piano and violin join to spring ahead in a buoyant rhythmic idea. Light-hearted in nature each instrumentalist has opportunities to bring playful little phrases before weaving some fine passages together as they move quickly forward. The music slows in some longer drawn phrases but soon picks up the tempo again. Later there is another slower section with tapping of bows that heralds a hesitant moment out of which the players re-discover the rhythmic buoyancy of the opening. There is a terrific swirl of music headed by the flute as the instrumentalists rush to the coda with a flourish. This is a most entertaining piece.

The Cellini Quartet bring us Rêverie – Jeux de pluie (Reverie - Rain Games). In four movements I. finds this quartet creating some exquisite textures as the melodic idea slowly reveals itself. The music moves ahead, slowly and melancholy, interrupted by little rhythmic lifts and flights of fancy. A repeated melodic passage arrives before a rhythmic idea leads to the end. II. seems to flow out of the theme of the first movement, though finding some fine textures and a lovely theme that slowly leads ahead later. III. brings a beautiful, melancholy theme with these players weaving some lovely phrases, gaining slightly in tempo before a coda that has a playful tinge. IV. flows ahead with a fine forward momentum, a forward moving weaving of ideas that later gains in rhythm and incisive textures before the coda.  

The second disc of this set opens with Night-struck, bringing together cellist, Alexander Zagorinsky and pianist, Einar Steen-Nøkleberg in this three movement work that opens with Invocation where the cello brings a quixotic little motif that is moved around and developed with some fine playing from this cellist. The piano suddenly leaps in to join the cello for Electrifying as they work up an incisive and more dramatic theme before a gentler coda. The piano opens in a broad, leisurely theme for Astray to which the cello soon adds a fine melodic line. Later the music rises in drama and emotion before a quiet melancholy coda, though the piano does add a more dynamic chord before the end.

Pianist, Blandine Waldmann returns for Winter Vigil, a piece that slowly develops through some quite lovely passages, conjuring some very fine images whilst giving the impression of an improvisation. At times the music gains an almost Bach like flow before rippling phrases lead to the coda. This is a particularly fine piece.  

Blandine Waldmann is joined by lyric soprano Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu for Rêve et Lune (Dream and Moon). The piano brings a delicate, rippling theme to which the soprano vocalises over some very fine piano passages, often with a bell like clarity. The piano develops the theme before the soprano later returns, the piano leading to the coda.

Blandine Waldmann is again the soloist in Miroir d’un mirage (Mirror of a mirage), a six movement work with each movement given a letter that as a whole spells out Ondine, presumably the water nymph of Debussy’s Preludes. I. O has a fine flowing theme interrupted by a more rhythmic elusive quality, certainly rather Debussyian in general feel. II. N finds a more incisive, dramatic quality as it moves quickly forward with varying tempi, separated by little pauses. III. D brings a constantly changing tempo and elusive character, quite beguiling.

IV. I finds more of Shostakovich’s brittle rhythmic nature as it moves around, full of playful ideas, through more flowing passages, often gentler and crystalline, yet suddenly changing tempo and dynamics. V. N rhythmically develops from the preceding section through a variety of passages, with rapid descending phrases and a myriad of developing ideas. VI. E has a slow flowing theme that develops out of a more dramatic, complex opening. It grows in dynamics through often complex musical lines before a simpler flowing passage of lovely delicacy arrives to lead to a hushed coda.

The three movement La Féerique et Pierrot (The Fairy and Pierrot) brings back lyric soprano, Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu and pianist, Blandine Waldmann. I. Pierrot - trop fatigue pour dormer (Pierrot - too tired to sleep) finds the soprano vocalising around a shifting piano theme. Bird cries are heard as the movement develops through some fine moments. II. Après la pluie (After the rain) brings a forward moving melody with occasional passages for solo piano before III. Nuages de nuit (Night clouds) finds an even greater flow for soprano and piano who provide a terrific flowering of melody with a series of rising phrases leading to the coda.

The Frog Pond sees bassoonist, Ursula Leveaux joining pianist, Blandine Waldmann in a piece that opens with a rhythmic, rather comic theme from the piano to which the bassoon adds its playful timbre. Soon the bassoon takes a plodding rhythm over longer piano phrases until both these players come together. The second movement brings a dramatic piano motif to which the bassoon adds wavering chords. There is a rising and falling piano motif with these players bringing a great sense of fun and much skilful playing.

Pianist, Blandine Waldmann brings a languid theme to the opening of Music at Moonrise but is suddenly overtaken by a fast, vibrant repeated motif from violinist, Ariel Jacob Lang.  The piano re-joins with a broader theme before reflecting the violin idea, both soon pushing the music ahead vibrantly with some terrific, incisive playing from both these performers. The music becomes more passionate before falling into the final track Lunaris where soprano, Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu joins. Bird cries are again heard as the soprano vocalises bringing evocative sounds over a slow theme from the violin and piano, creating a fine sense of completion as the opening theme of this set of discs returns.

Jonathan Östlund is a composer who reveals an ability to create works that are magical, playful and energetic but always with a distinctive sound, a sound that will surely appeal to a wide audience.

The recordings, made at Greystoke Studio, London are close but clear and detailed. 

The booklet notes by the composer are intentionally brief as he wishes the listener to ‘dwell upon their meanings.’ The booklet and art work are up to Divine Art’s usual high standards. 


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    1. Glad you are enjoying my reviews and hope you will continue to do so.
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      The Classical Reviewer