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Piano Music by Estonia's Heino Eller,
This review is from: Eller: Complete Piano Music Vol. 3 [Sten Lassmann] [Toccata Classics: TOCC 0161] (Audio CD)
As the foremost Estonian composer of his era, Heino Eller (1887-1970) is revered in his country. To those of us from elsewhere he is probably best known as the teacher of Arvo Pärt, the current leading light of Estonian music. Thanks to critic turned music entrepreneur Martin Anderson, the founder of Toccata Classics, we are now getting a slew of recordings of music from the Baltic states and discovering some laudable works. This is the third in a series of CDs -- there will be eight -- of Eller's complete works for piano, all played by Estonian pianist Sten Lassmann, an artist in his early thirties.
On this disc are works from what are roughly Eller's early, middle and late periods, including Three Studies (1917-1919), Five Préludes (1929-1930), Ten Lyric Pieces (1942-1943) and his Fourth Piano Sonata (1957-1958).
In their order on the CD:
The Ten Lyric Pieces, formally inspired by Grieg's Lyric Pieces, are mostly somber, even melancholy, pieces written in the period immediately after Eller's Jewish first wife was taken by the SS and a few months later executed. The music here is, in the main, gripping, heart-rending. Interestingly there is a seemingly inappropriate mazurka-like piece, No. 8, which however is secretly apt as a Chopin mazurka was one of the last pieces Eller heard his wife, a pianist, play. The last, and longest, Lyric Piece is a set of variations ending in a quadruple fugue.
The early Three Studies are rather more lyrical than the Lyrical Pieces, sounding to some extent like Grieg or Christian Sinding. Most effective is the third one, in G Flat Major, which has ceaseless sixteenth notes throughout. The second study, also in G Flat, is brief and somewhat jocular. The first, in A Flat Major, is naïvely pastoral, describing dawn with the rising of a brilliant sun.
The Five Préludes are considerably more spare than the Studies, even cryptic in style. Almost diffident, only one of them even has a key signature or easily discernible pulse. There is an underlying angst in all of them.
The Piano Sonata No. 4, Eller's last, was written in the late 1950s after the composer had gone through the 'Social Realism', 'anti-Formalist' phase in Soviet music during which he had to conform to cultural czar Andrei Zhdanov's edicts about what kind of music was allowed. Modern-sounding without being atonal, the three-movement sonata is somewhat neoclassic, with a first movement in modified sonata-allegro form. The second movement is contemplative, musing, often lyrical. It leads without pause into the vivo finale, a rondo whose themes are graceful, lilting, and light-hearted until sforzando chordal passages lead to a dramatic coda on a pedal point, what the booklet writer, the pianist Sten Lassmann, calls a 'tragic outcry'.
Many of the pieces here are receiving their first recordings. Sten Lassmann is a fine pianist doing a major service to the memory of a composer whose music deserves to be heard.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Jun 2013 10:23:16 BDT
Mr. Colin S. Clarke says:
Great review ... the back of the disc claims that this is one of a series of eight discs, not seven though. Do you know different? Not a criticism, just interested ...
In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jun 2013 12:07:29 BDT
J Scott Morrison says:
No. It was my mistake. Thanks for catching it. I'll change it to eight in my review.
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