, May 2000
This is a marvelous work, from the eerie desolation of its opening bird calls to the frequently martial episodes that eventually bring the piece to its emphatic close. Englund’s musical language here sounds a bit like late Sibelius mingled with Prokofiev, which is not to slight the composer’s originality and mastery one bit. In any event, it’s a combination that works very, very well.
The Russian influence is even more pronounced in the First Piano Concerto, a tuneful, fiery, percussive work that certainly deserves more attention from today’s crowd of “name” players. It would bring the audience to its feet in a live concert. The Fourth Symphony (“Nostalgic”) appeared in 1976, after a long gap in the composer’s symphonic writing, during which he felt his language stood little chance of being accepted by the “serialist” avant-garde of the late 1950s and ‘60s. Written for strings and percussion, the second movement (subtitled “Tempus fugit”) is especially appealing with its imitative alarm clock noises, though the heart of the work lies in the darkly brooding concluding Epilogue. In this work, Englund found an economy of expression combined with a haunting yet sparse lyricism that sounds somehow typically Finnish.
All three works are very well performed by the dean of Finnish conductors, Jorma Panula, and his Turku orchestra. Niklas Sivelov tears into the piano concerto with genuine relish and a virtuoso’s delight in its many opportunities for display, and Naxos’ recording is both natural and well balanced. A major recording of a major composer, at much less than a major price--what could be better than that?