Beginning with the otherworldly cries of the Gavia Arctica bird (also known as the black-throated loon), the music of Swedish composer Jonathan Östlund gently makes its way into our consciousness in Lunaris for lyric soprano (here Ruxandra Ibric Cioranu) and piano. Rautavaara has played with this idea, too; it is such a successful gesture that it is surprising more composers do not experiment with this. Cioranu also impresses in the fluidity of her voice in the later vocalizes Rêve et lune, La Féerique et Pierrot, and Music at Moonrise/ Lunaris (the last of which also features the violin of Ariel Jacob Lang). The lighter tone of Opus Pocus Fantienne for flute and piano might come as something of a surprise, while the decidedly French Impressionism-fragranced Phantasion for flute and piano, performed in the most miraculous manner here, gives us a clue as to what lies at the heart of Östlund’s expression. Yoana Karemova’s piano playing is particularly sensitive.
Many of the titles used by Östlund may well imply Impressionism, Air dans l’air being one of them. For solo flute, this short five minute piece flits around playfully; the similarly evocative Lumière d’étoiles opts to include the odd reference to lighter musical genres such as jazz, while its second part explores darker regions effectively. Blandine Waldmann is superb in her keyboard color, unafraid to opt for harsher sonorities when appropriate. The Impressionist moniker is perhaps not entirely apt, as Östlund’s range of expression is wider. Some pieces do, however, sit happily with that description, the lonely and lovely Winter Vigil (expressively played here by Waldmann) being a case in point. The change to Fantasia on Scarborough Fair is abrupt; we enter a nostalgic world closer to the Scepter’d Isle. Scored for flute, cello, and piano, this is a superb piece of chamber music, scored with a deft hand. There is fun to be had here, too – the Habanera rhythms of Rencontre for flute and piano, for example. Of particular interest is the playfulness of The Wizard . Delightful.
The four-movement Rêverie – Jeux de pluie for string quartet is given a positively radiant performance by the Cellini Quartet. This is a fascinating canvas, full of color, with the second movement veering back to the folky sentiments of Fantasia on Scarborough Fair . The inventively named Night-struck for cello and piano (the first of the three movements is for cello alone) is rather rugged, the second movement in particular, which is indicated as “electrifying.” Alexander Zagorinsky’s cello is highly expressive, not to mention passionate.
Each disc contains one larger-scale work. For the second, it is the 27-minute Miroir d’un mirage for solo piano. Each of its six movements is prefaced by a single capital letter, which together spell “ONDINE”, a clear pointer towards Ravel, and indeed atmospheric pedal-haze is part of this piece’s expressive armory; so, too, is a more dissonant mode of expression (the second movement, for example). The lumbering gait of the fifth movement is well projected by Waldmann. It’s nice to see a piece for solo bassoon, too: The Frog Pond . Playful in extremis, Ursula Leveaux and Waldmann clearly have fun in both of its movements.
The booklet is mainly filled with biographies of the performers. The composer states that “the inspiration, message and outline of many compositions benefits from remaining undefined”, so we are effectively left with our own ears to assess this music. That’s no bad thing. Östlund clearly has much to say, and he says it in a consistently interesting manner. Fully worthy of investigation.
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