Englund: Piano Quintet; String Quartet

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WORKS: Piano Quintet; String Quartet
PERFORMER: Peter Lönnqvist (piano); Sinfonia Lahti Chamber Ensemble
The Finnish composer Einar Englund tends to be labelled as a sober Nordic neo-classicist. The impassioned, strongly shaped String Quartet, written in 1985, goes some way to correct – or, rather, enrich that image. But it’s the early Piano Quintet, composed when Englund was still a student, that’s the real surprise. You don’t need a degree in music to spot the influences: Ravel, Franck, Brahms and (unsurprisingly) the Finnish master Sibelius. But the work is so alive and appealing, and so obviously conceived as a single artistic statement, that there’s never any question of dismissing it as derivative. It’s also beautifully conceived for the medium: the ensemble is never treated as a mini orchestra – it’s real chamber music. So, too, is the String Quartet: impressive music, but without the delightful youthful adventurousness of the Piano Quintet. On one hearing this feels like music that needs time to reveal itself. Which makes this CD an excellent starting point for exploring Englund. The performances are wonderfully vibrant, authoritative and technically magnificent. The same goes for the recordings. And full marks to the BIS team for securing such a fine overall sound picture in the Quintet – piano and solo strings isn’t the easiest of combinations to balance. Stephen Johnson