Englund: Piano Concertos

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

It’s simply astonishing that Einar Englund’s Piano Concertos have not become firm staples of the repertoire. Each possesses the crowd-pleasing elements of concertos by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartók, and Ravel, but are wholly original rhythmic and harmonic tours de force with nary a note wasted in the process. For some time, collectors have been content to rely on Naxos’ estimable recording of the First Piano Concerto, but this new version from Ondine blows it away and quickly establishes itself as the reference against which all others (if there are any) will be judged. Matti Raekallio’s incredibly sure-footed playing blends seamlessly with the Tampere Philharmonic’s enthusiastic and feisty accompaniment, and the recorded sound comes through with a beguilingly natural presence, especially in the renderings of the piano’s timbre and the silky sheen of the violins.

Both concertos are structurally similar, although they were written about 20 years apart. The first movements have the startling forward thrust of a Nielsen symphony; the middle sections are texturally luminous and harmonically enigmatic (dominated by augmented fourths in the second concerto) with magnificent solo contributions from the winds; and the final movements bristle with energy and fire. The Second Piano Concerto is that much more finely wrought, with a marvelously clever fugue starting in the winds in the development of the first movement that culminates in a two-part cadenza that rivals (and sounds like) the monstrously difficult part in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto.

The disc concludes with Epinikia, or Hymn to Victory, a competition entry composed in 1947 for the Finnish athletic games. Strangely dour and pompous with plenty of brass, it is nonetheless hardly festive or inspiring. Seek this disc, then, for the mesmerizing concertos–an important and welcome addition to Ondine’s vital and expanding catalog of works by this terrific composer.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: this one

EINAR ENGLUND - Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1 (1955); Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, No. 2 (1974); Epinikia

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