There’s a good balance between the known and the unknown
in this release, and it’s almost always the latter that
gets the collecting juices flowing. So let’s take Bengt
Carlson first. Born in 1890, he studied in Helsinki and then,
before the First World War, in Paris as a student of d’Indy.
He wrote the Violin Sonata in 1918 at the age of 28 and it remained
a favourite work of his youth, though he was never to compose
another large-scale chamber work in the 25 years left to him.
The manuscript of the Sonata was found in the archives of the
Finnish Music Information Centre and this is its first ever
recording. It’s probably also the first performance since
its last known outing, at the Nordic Music Festival in 1921.
It’s written in four movements and lasts around 36 minutes
in this performance. It bears the impression of chromatic Franco-Belgian
violin writing, notably Franck, but perhaps less so Lekeu. There’s
certainly a pervasive late-Wagnerianism too. The writing for
both instruments sounds demanding, something this work also
shares with the Franck. Puckish pizzicati lighten the rather
unrelieved music in the fast second movement, where the sprite-like
element is quite heavy. A sense of misterisoso and the
clotted inhabit the Lento, a high tension lyricism that
just about manages not to occlude the writing. The finale shifts
close to a free fantasia at a few points but forms a strong
and powerful conclusion, not least in a reprise, just before
the end, of the mysterious spirit that lit up the slow movement.
One problem emerges, however: in the finale the performers have
taken out a repeat section, drawing on the precedent of earlier
performances in which both the outer movements were cut. The
first movement in this recording is heard intact. Then, in the
booklet notes, in a strange twist, both Annemarie Åström
and Emil Holmström ask any future performers to perform
the finale in its original, uncut format. Which is fine, except
that they haven’t. At the very least, I wish they’d
recorded the uncut finale and included it as an appendix. That
way we, and any prospective performers, could listen for ourselves
and decide whether we prefer the ‘fantasia’ approach
or the ‘stodgy sonata repeat’ form, if that’s
what’s being offered.
After these textual problems it’s a relief to turn to
the other music. The little known Agnes Tschetschulin’s
Berceuse is a salon charmer from 1888, burnished with
a few period slides. It’s certainly not profound, but
then it doesn’t make any pretence to be so. Tor Aulin’s
Four Aquarelles are what I’d call fringe-famous.
But it’s surprising to see how very few recordings there
are around of all four. Most fiddlers pick and choose, which
makes their inclusion all the better. At the heart of the disc
sits Sinding’s Romanze, a much loved piece, given
an effective reading here.
Congratulations to Annemarie Åström for this well-balanced
recital and to Emil Holmström for his work in the arduous
thickets of the Carlson, and to Sonja Fräki for the less
strenuous character pieces elsewhere.