Fagerlund: Clarinet Concerto; Partita; Isola

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Fagerlund
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Clarinet Concerto; Partita; Isola
PERFORMER: Christoffer Sundqvist (clarinet); Gothenburg SO/Dima Slobodeniouk
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-SACD-1707 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The sleeve-note describes Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund – presumably with the composer’s approval – as ‘a post-modern impressionist’. On the evidence of this disc he strikes me as neither. Avant-garde he clearly isn’t (is anybody these days?): the ‘tone-bending’ effects in the Clarinet Concerto may be telling, but they’re hardly ground breaking. Fleeting echoes of James MacMillan, Magnus Lindberg and John Adams suggest that, like them, he is distinctly ‘over’ modernism. But the strong sense of momentum, the feeling for how musical currents shift and blend as well as power forward, plus the unmistakable (and often impassioned) nature imagery, suggest a composer who can side with his great countryman Sibelius without the slightest need for self-protective irony.

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These are three strong, freshly poetic pieces, that make themselves understood directly without any kind of verbal conceptual help – and yet which also reward repeated hearings. Knowing about what inspired these works – the tragic Isola particularly – is helpful, but Fagerlund’s music has an authentic openness that speaks for itself, and if his melodies don’t resemble ‘tunes’ in any familiar sense, their lyricism is warmly appealing. Full marks to clarinettist Christopher Sundqvist, the Gothenburg Symphony and Dima Slobodeniouk for putting all this music across with such power, intelligence and refinement, and to BIS for demonstration-quality recordings. Stephen Johnson