Heino Eller’s Almost Excellent Orchestral Works

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Estonian composer Heino Eller’s (1887-1970) career offers a classic illustration of being a big fish in a small  pond. His was certainly not a great musical voice, but it was an attractive one. Take the Violin Concerto, which probably represents some of his best work. Thematically memorable and beautifully written for the instrument, especially in this graceful and fluent account of the solo part by Baiba Skride, it falls easily on the ear. Its defects are mainly questions of form. Eller stitches together what are basically the standard three movements, with cadenzas at the joins (nothing new there), but he seems not to know where the music really wants to end. The piece appears headed for a full close several times before the true final bars, with the result that its modest length of 23 minutes sounds oddly longer–not terribly so, but disturbing all the same.

Symphonic Legend begins with an arresting idea on strings and harp, and contains much else besides to capture the attention, but it too comes across as excessively episodic and has difficulty sustaining its length (which is the same as the Violin Concerto). But if you take it moment by moment, it’s very enjoyable. That Eller might have understood that he had an issue is suggested by the Symphony No. 2, which only exists as a single, first movement. Eller never completed the rest, and perhaps his difficulty in articulating large forms helps to explain why. The Fantasy in G minor for Violin and Orchestra is a brief bit of fluff, no less entertaining for that.

In short, Eller was a composer of strong ideas, effectively presented, as these sympathetic and well recorded performances under Olari Elts definitely confirm. Moreover, his importance to the history of Estonian music is indisputable–but so are his shortcomings. Hearing him is kind of like visiting a charming rural hotel where the rooms are clean and the scenery lovely, but the service isn’t quite first class–however friendly the staff.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Violin Concerto; Symphonic Legend; Fantasy in G minor for Violin and Orchestra; Symphony No. 2

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