Anders Eliasson - Camerata Nordica
Caprice Records CAP 21731
Classical - Chamber
Anders Eliasson: Ostacoli, Concerto per Violino ed Orchestra d'Archi, Ein schneller Blick … ein kurzes Aufscheinen
Levon Chilingirian (violin, conductor)
Review by John Miller - November 5, 2017
On 22nd May 2013, Sweden was mourning the death of Anders Eliasson, who was regarded as having been one of the greatest composers in Sweden. Born in 1947, his earliest childhood musical memories came to his mind, of marching his toy soldiers to his own sounds. In his youth, he had a period of psychological illness which ended with going to private studies with Valdemar Söderholm, a well-known Swedish composer, music theorist and church musician. He moved to the Royal Stockholm Academy of Music in 1966 to study with Ingvar Lidholm, a member of the modernist ‘Monday Group’ collective.
Electronic work was attractive, but the early acoustic work 'Canto del vagabondo' (orchestra and choir, 1979) finally brought him to the attention of the Swedish musical community. His first Symphony (1989) had relevance and talent, bringing his name to the international music scene, and won the Nordic Council Music Prize in 1992. Three symphonies came next, also many chamber and vocal works, together with concerti of saxophone, bass clarinet, trombone and violin.
During this period of artistic development, Eliasson built his own musical alphabet as generally done by modernist composers. He explained: "There are simple modes, such as D-F-B-C-B-F-D, a sort of Lydian mode. The other one is D-E-A-B?-A, a typical Dorian mode. Horizontally and vertically. The two modes are very closely related. It’s easy to switch from one to the other. The special thing is, to me, they’re not Lydian, not Dorian, neither one nor the other. No other chords harbour so many possibilities" concluded Eliasson. This system is very different from Per Nørgård's, for example, whose "infinity row" creates the mathematical possibility of resonantly tonal centres across a large-scale work. Eliasson was in general disgusted by hearing most avant garde composers for provoking or goading their audiences. However, he accepted the unrelenting "intensity" of the music of Allan Pettersson, Swedish music's great outcast, whom Eliasson praised for pursuing his own path.
Because of his composing system, Eliasson's music is quite accessible. While he used some stylistic comparisons from Prokofiev and Bartók, this was not imitation or lack of individuality. His music has been characterised by expressiveness, restlessness, melancholy and beauty, and I would add tension, assertiveness, anguish and pathos. Based on the three works on this SACD, it seems that the darker side of the composer was the strongest. There was little sunshine in our part of the Galaxy, as it were, but the few bright and happy minutes that did enlighten, brought love and warmth.
Sweden's Camerata Nordica string orchestra had a great esteem for the composer. The Camerata (word for 'without conductor') commissioned a new piece from him; the result being "Ein schneller ... ein kurzes Aufscheinen Blick" ('A Brief Glance... a Fleeting Vision'). Together with two other string pieces by him, the recording of this disc was made in Nov 20th-23nd 2003 at the church of Virserum, SE Sweden.
Leven Chilingerian was born in Cyprus of Armenian parents, taking up the violin at only 5 years old. A popular soloist, he has played concerti for many big orchestras and he founded The Chilingerian Quartet which has a large international appeal. Now the Quartet teaches at the Royal College of Music in London. As well as being the director and player for Camerata Nordica, he played the violin solo in the "Concerto ed Orchestra d'Archi" of the Caprice Records.
Eliasson himself had a strong affinity for string orchestras, as one can mark when listening to this SACD. He followed much of the "new" 20th-century technical practice in expanding string-playing for new tonality areas, but forgoed Bartók and Stravinsky's view of strings as potentially percussive instruments, avoiding other sound string possibilities in the process.
The disc starts with an early piece for strings. Eliasson's "Ostacoli" - 'Obstacles' (1987), is somewhat like a tone poem in size and with a tertiary structure. Beginning suffused with tension at various levels, in the middle section a slow dark and depth pervades. More tranquil patches invade, but a last section rips these asunder. The middle section itself surprises with rapid glissandi like the songs of angry birds; but a final ending with brief echoes of the bitter desolation of the middle section completes the 'Obstacles'.
The large-scale Violin Concerto (1992) is quite frequently played by Janine Jansen these days. Eliasson dedicated it to Juha Kangas, conductor of Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. An unusual feature of the piece is that the violinist does not play as complete solo until a few sections in the finale, which makes a happy arrival. Overall, the concerto's aim could be called "resigned expression", but it has unusual and interesting techniques, which the strings clearly enjoy played. The basses in particular contribute richly. There is a potential problem for any balance engineer (Torbjö Samuelsson) of the need to keep the solo clear within the other massed violins in particular. This balance was very good on the whole, but there are times when the soloist seems to have vanished briefly.
To complete the disc, by far its Eliasson's longest title is another way to expresses his inward thoughts and feelings: "Ein schneller ... ein kurzes Aufscheinen Blick" ('A Brief Glance... a Fleeting Vision') (2003). Despite the long title, this appears to be the most common of this Eliasson piece on extant recordings. It is another 3-part piece, of Allegro moderato, Tranquillo and Presto. Less dense and ruffled compared to Ostacoli, writer Tony Lundman in the booklet explains Eliasson's aim: "A glance, a flair. The title alludes too the spark of which music is born - accompany Camerata Nordica into Eliasson's musical universe". The beauty of the middle section makes us hopeful, with deeply expressing violas and tonally saturated throughout the orchestra, but the concluding distorted dance theme in the last section suddenly evaporates.
The church recording is very good but not quite exciting; the responsive acoustic is more like a light halo around the players. However, the layout of the orchestra is clearly expressed, with left and right violins (all standing, of course) and a good sense of depth in the layout. The two basses have some very deep and strong sections, but on the whole, the deeper sounds are not used very much The minutely printed information about the recording, on Caprice Records, Sweden has nothing about about the technical matters except the standard SACD DSD.
Anders Eliasson grew up in completely uncultured surroundings. His family couldn’t give him any musical stimulation. From this he made a distinctive musician who deserved his way up into the many Swedish composers worthy of edging into the International arena. Over the last few years, the music of the Nordics before and beyond Sibelius have been more and more interesting for the rest of the world. Self-agonied Allan Pettersson has an increasing set of listeners, but even after this 2003 recording, Anders Eliasson's work is still not very far outside the Baltic areas. Here's your chance.
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