Englund: Cello Concerto; Aphorisms (Symphony No. 6)

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COMPOSERS: Englund
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Aphorisms (Symphony No. 6)
PERFORMER: Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello); Tampere PO & Choir/Eri Klas
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 951-2
The modernist Sixties were enthralling for some, pure torture for others. The Finnish composer Einar Englund was so depressed by what he called the ‘mockery of the composer as a serious artist’ that for a decade he gave up writing. Then in 1971 he began again, more or less where he’d left off – writing in traditional forms, influenced by Hindemith, Bartók and the neo-classical Stravinsky, but with the same unaggressively distinctive voice that musical Finns (still heavily overshadowed by Sibelius) had found so appealing and liberating in the years after the war.

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The Cello Concerto and the choral Sixth Symphony, Aphorisms, date respectively from the mid-Fifties and the mid-Eighties – ie before and after the ten years’ silence. Yet they’re obviously by the same composer: disdainful of fashion, deeply serious, but with a melodic appeal (especially in the Concerto) and clearly Nordic imaginativeness which makes listening surprisingly easy, even when (as in the Symphony) the inspiration is the riddling, fragmentary philosophy of the ancient Greek Heraclitus. Performances are assured and understanding – a little reined-in, expressively; but this is music in which feeling is always contained, it’s never allowed to overflow. Englund can be austere, but he’s far from dry. Recommended. Stephen Johnson