Tuesday 22 November 2016

Benjamin Schmid with the Oulu Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Gustavsson provide first rate performances of two very fine violin concertos by Finnish composers, Einar Englund and Uuno Klami on a new release from Ondine

A new release from Ondine www.ondine.net  brings together the violin concertos of two important Finnish composers, Einar Englund and Uuno Klami with violinist Benjamin Schmid www.benjaminschmid.com and the Oulu Symphony Orchestra www.oulusinfonia.fi conducted by their chief conductor, Johannes Gustavsson www.nordicartistsmanagement.com/artists/johannes-gustavsson-conductor .

Einar Englund (1916-1999) studied with Selim Palmgren (1878-1951) and Bengt Carlsson (1890-1953) at the Helsinki Academy and with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He also spent some time studying in Russia where he was influenced by Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His compositions range across ballet, orchestral works of which his seven symphonies have been recorded by Ondine, concertos, chamber music, piano works and film scores.

Uuno Klami (1900-1961) studied with Erkki Melartin (1875-1937) at the Helsinki College of Music, with Ravel in Paris and with Arthur Willner (1881-1959) in Vienna. His compositions include vocal and choral as well as orchestral works including two symphonies, a number of orchestral suites, two piano concertos and the violin concerto heard here.

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Einar Englund (1916-1999) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1981) in response to a commission from the Association of Finnish Symphony Orchestras. Much of its composition was undertaken at Ljugarn on the island of Gotland during the summer of 1981 where the peaceful environment greatly influenced the concerto.

The opening Allegro moderato rises suddenly in the orchestra with a bright and spacious theme before the soloist enters bringing chords that are full of fine textures. The music soon picks up a rhythm as it is developed by the soloist, moving forward in the orchestra, pointed up by timpani. A slower, quieter episode arrives where the celeste is heard, the soloist joining in a gentle, rather mournful theme. Benjamin Schmid and conductor, Johannes Gustavsson never allow the music to flag, pushing forward through some beautifully orchestrated passages. The rhythmic quality occasionally re-appears as soloist and orchestra weave the theme through a fine tapestry of ideas, later increasing in drama and passion before the soloist brings some beautiful textures over a quietly held orchestral line in the lower strings. This leads to a cadenza when the soloist slowly works over the material, this soloist finding many subtleties.  The orchestra take over alone with a hushed, quite beautiful passage to which the soloist adds the most exquisite ideas. The woodwind join before the music rises through a more dynamic passage only to quieten and slow through before a gentle coda.

The orchestra introduce a spirited Moderato theme that reveals an underlying sadness as it falls back. There is a combined tension and thoughtfulness as the soloist quietly enters to develop the theme over a hushed orchestral backdrop, working through a long breathed stream of development, much in the vein of a passacaglia, with woodwind adding some atmospheric touches. A little rhythmic motif in the orchestra adds to the tension before soloist and orchestra rise in passion, weaving some impressive passages for soloist and orchestra. Later the music lightens but soon finds its more sombre nature.  A rather magical hushed line for the soloist appears over a quiet orchestra to bring about the coda.  

The Finale: Allegro molto bursts out in the orchestra with the soloist quickly joining in the lively theme. The theme is soon shared by brilliant woodwind, orchestra and soloist pushing ahead through vibrant bars, shedding the atmosphere of the moderato. Later a cadenza suddenly arrives with the soloist bringing some terrific textures and harmonies before the orchestra returns to drive the music to a vibrant coda.

The original version of Uuno Klami’s (1900-1961) Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1943/1954) was written during the Second World War and premiered at a concert of the composer’s compositions in Helsinki in the October of 1943. Perhaps his most well-known work, the Kalevala Suite was performed at the same concert, though this work too had been subjected to revision as well as a new scherzo.

The Allegro molto moderato of the violin concerto opens in the orchestra with a pensive theme to which the soloist soon adds anxious chords. The music pushes ahead with a rather laboured effect before suddenly finding a forward flow. The soloist soon provides some fast and furious passages before slowing again to the rather laboured idea. It soon flourishes ahead as the soloist rhapsodises over the orchestra. An oboe and strings take the theme, bringing a more romantic feel with the soloist weaving around the oboe and orchestra, spinning some exquisite moments. Midway there is a more dynamic passage, with a rhythmic pulse before the soloist adds some faster passages over a more static orchestra. The more romantic, nostalgic idea returns with the soloist flowing around a weightier orchestra where the brass are heard before finding more energy to lead to a rhythmic passage for soloist and orchestra. Towards the end the soloist and woodwind speed in a fast, light section to a fleet coda.

Woodwind bring a gentle, light textured opening to the Adagio ma non troppo soon taken by the strings. A harp adds a hushed, delicate, rhythmic pulse before the soloist enters with a lovely melody that is shadowed by the orchestra. This is a quite wonderful section with the soloist slowly adding textures and sonorities as the melody expands and develops. This soloist develops and shapes the solo part wonderfully, soon finding an achingly poignant edge. The music alternates with a rhythmic idea with both soloist and orchestra finding some lovely harmonies and textures. Later there is a particularly lovely moment when the soloist rises above the horns, full of the most beautiful ideas before finding an exquisite coda.

The orchestra bring a riotous opening with brass to the Allegro giocoso before the violin enters developing the lively, repeated theme. There is a fine dialogue between muted brass and the solo violin before finding a real light-hearted buoyant, forward drive. Benjamin Schmid adds some terrific flourishes, finding a rhythmic buoyancy, through some rather original ideas as woodwind, soloist and strings develop the theme. The brass eventually re-introduce the riotous idea from the opening before the music heads to a light-hearted, buoyant coda.  

Benjamin Schmid with the Oulu Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Gustavsson provide first rate performances of these two very fine concertos. I found the Klami concerto to be a particularly attractive work. They receive an excellent recording made at the Madetoja Hall, Oulu, Finland and there are excellent booklet notes. 

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