Saturday 18 April 2015

A very fine violin concerto and a terrific orchestral work by Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund feature on a new release from BIS with violinist Pekka Kuusisto and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu

Sebastian Fagerlund (b.1972) studied composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under the guidance of Erkki Jokinen. He attended composition masterclasses led by Michael Jarrel, Magnus Lindberg and Ivan Fedele.

He now lives in Helsinki where he works as a freelance composer creating music that has been described as ‘flowing, fast-moving and rich in sound… with a highly virtuosic instrumental feel… creating musical dramas in which powerful expression is combined with intensity and communicativeness.’

Fagerlund’s compositions include an opera, Döbeln (2008–2009), vocal and choral works as well as orchestral, chamber and instrumental works. In November 2013 the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the UK première of Fagerlund’s Guitar Concerto, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Afternoon on 3.

In 2011, Fagerlund was awarded Finland's most renowned music prize, the Teosto Prize, for his orchestral work Ignite. The same year Ignite was also selected as a recommended work at the International Rostrum of Composers 2011 in Vienna.

Recent orchestral works include a Violin Concerto for violinist Pekka Kuusisto commissioned by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and premièred in 2012; and a Concerto for Guitar and Symphony Orchestra commissioned by The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, première in 2013. Since 2013 Fagerlund has been artistic director of the RUSK Chamber Music Festival in Jakobstad, Finland.

A new release from BIS Records  features two of the works mentioned above, his Violin Concerto and Ignite for orchestra. Pekka Kuusisto  is the soloist with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu

The Violin Concerto ‘Darkness in Light’ (2012) is in three movements played without a break. The title refers to the narrative style of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami (b.1949) which mixes reality with the surreal. Timpani thunder in the distance as the first movement, Energico opens, the orchestra slowly rising full of energy. When the soloist enters the orchestra is reduced to a lighter accompaniment with occasional outbursts underpinned by timpani. The violin rapidly develops the music through staccato lightly bowed phrases and many intricate, fast moving passages with beautifully scored instrumental details. The music rises to a number of little peaks before arriving at a sudden outburst before falling back. There are passages of subtle virtuosity from Pekka Kuusisto as well as a lovely static passage where the violin hovers over a constantly shifting quiet orchestra.

Part way through, the music rises through some beautifully coloured orchestral passages, always with a sense of movement before falling through an exquisitely hushed passage with the violin hovering over the orchestra. The music develops some fine textures before leading through a cadenza full of fine timbres and colours. This leads to a finely hushed moment when the soloist produces pizzicato and other shifting patterns with more hushed violin phrases that use many individual techniques to provide strange little sounds, before percussion gently signal the return of the orchestra, leading the listener into the second movement.

In the opening of the Lento intenso the orchestra is underpinned by timpani as it falls to a hush, ruminating gently before the violin slowly enters in one of the finest of many lovely moments in this concerto; quite magical. A repeated descending orchestral theme is set against a slowly winding violin melody before the music slowly rises in the orchestra, with timpani, full of drama and power. The music falls back as the violin enters, working a subtle little motif against the hushed orchestra, slowly leading upwards in little figurations that grow bolder and increase in volume to lead into Bruscamente where the violin sets off at a pace against a dynamic orchestra, full of light textured passages with an attractive rhythm in the staccato phrases from the orchestra over which the solo violin weaves its theme. The music rapidly scrambles forward increasing in dynamics as the orchestra builds to a pitch, falling again as the soloist is heard in a kind of accompanied cadenza.  There is a short rise in the orchestra’s dynamics before the music fades to a quiet end.

This is a very fine concerto indeed full of invention, colour and energy. It receives a terrific performance from Pekka Kuusisto with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu.

Ignite for orchestra (2010) is in four sections each divided by a short interlude and is built in a structure that circles around a central point that is embodied in the opening eruptions.

Brass dominate the sudden outburst of fast and furious music that opens the Presto, furioso. Fagerlund creates a terrific weaving of orchestral textures before suddenly reducing to a quieter section with scurrying woodwind rising and falling over a gentle orchestral motif. Timpani lead the orchestra up as it again finds momentum and dynamics. There are passages of wonderfully woven sounds with outbursts before a quiet coda that takes us into the Interlude I. Espressivo with a gently rising and falling orchestra over which individual instruments bring outbursts before moving into the next section.

Energico, molto ritmico opens with a rather syncopated rhythm and scurrying strings before a longer breathed passage where the strings lead over the rhythm of the brass and woodwind. Timpani join as the motoric rhythm now pushes forward with great energy. There are moments of quieter, spiky rhythms as well as many fine individual instrumental moments. The music builds in intensity until a chime is heard to bring a hushed variant of the fast moving theme as we arrive at another of Fagerlund’s magical moments. The strings then rise, pointed up by brass and little woodwind motifs in a quite beautiful passage. Timpani continue to beat as the music leads inexorably forward, before falling to a hush as we are led into Interlude II. Espressivo where a bassoon plays a theme over hushed timpani beats with little woodwind motifs that take us into the third and longest section.

Timpani beats can be heard for a short while as the Lento misterioso, molto calmo arrives, before hushed strings lead forward albeit with a rather static theme out of which rises a clarinet. The music lightens with further woodwind passages before the hushed opening theme re-appears. Little orchestral surges gently appear as do brass and woodwind passages, adding some lovely colour to the music. The music continually returns to the opening hushed theme, though developing new colours and textures. Slowly the music rises as though trying to haul itself up. Low brass ruminates in a distinctive passage before the woodwind weave a lovely theme. The strings rise in a faster motif but the brooding hush is maintained as we move into Interlude III. Intenso where brass scurry around, percussion lighten the texture with woodwind joining before we move into  the final section.

Brass, woodwind and timpani, thundering out full of energy, introduce Esaltato. There are rasping brass phrases before pizzicato lower strings underpin a forward moving theme over which woodwind and brass weave a theme. When the music falls to a hush, deep timpani rolls can be heard along with the lower strings. Soon the music rises, full of energy, scurrying forward with woodwind arabesques, just a little reminiscent of Rautavaara, in another terrific section before we are led to the dynamic coda.

This is a really terrific orchestral work brilliantly played here by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu.

Here is a composer well worth exploring. Both of these works are accessible in the best possible sense, full of interest, beauty and energy. They receive an excellent recording from the Helsinki Music Centre, Finland and there are excellent booklet notes.

I will be exploring more of this composer’s music. 

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