Selim Palmgren: “Chopin of the North”

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Selim Palmgren (1878-1951) wrote hundreds of piano pieces, and the best of them certainly deserve to be heard more frequently. He met Busoni during the great pianist’s stay in Helsinki, and the early Piano Sonata, which dates from the 1890s, shows the influence of Liszt and Grieg. It’s a bold, entertaining piece whose brief length (about 15 minutes) confirms that composer’s destiny as a miniaturist. Palmgren did write in larger forms: his five piano concertos are lovely and badly need new recordings. Are you listening, Ondine? On evidence here, Henri Sigfridsson would be just the guy to record them.

Sigfridsson plays all of this music with a singing tone and relaxed virtuosity that suits this composer especially well. While capable of the occasional Lisztian outburst, Palmgren’s basic aesthetic was, like Chopin’s, more lyrical and elegant. He composed an opera in the first decade of the 20th century, and the spirit of vocal music seems to hover just behind many of his miniatures, including the atmospheric May Night and most of the 24 Preludes. This latter work shows a marked advance over the sonata, with impressionist and modernist elements mingling with Finnish folk influences (three of the preludes are marked “in folk style”). Prelude No. 17, simply marked “Allegro agitato”, anticipates Prokofiev in its pounding rhythms. It lasts just a touch over 30 seconds and so I include it complete in the sound sample below.

Ondine’s engineering is typically natural, with Sigridsson’s instrument captured vividly in a warm acoustic. Let’s hope this isn’t the last Palmgren disc that we get to hear.

Palmgren: Prelude Op. 17 No. 17 (Allegro agitato) Sigfridsson

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No reference recording

    Sonata in D minor Op. 11; May Night Op. 27 No. 4; 24 Preludes Op. 17

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