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Flute Concertos by Carl Nielsen and Paavo Heininen / Helasvuo, Boganyi, Saimaa Sinfonietta

Heininen / Nielsen / Helasvuo
Release Date: 09/10/2013 
Label:  Alba Records   Catalog #: 350   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carl NielsenPaavo Heininen
Performer:  Mikael Helasvuo
Conductor:  Tibor Bogányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saimaa Sinfonietta
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HEININEN Flute Concerto , “Autrefois.” NIELSEN Flute Concerto Mikael Helasvuo (fl); Tibor Bogányi, cond; Saimaa Snf ALBA 350 (57:28)

Contemporary Finnish composer Paavo Johannes Heininen, who studied with Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Vincent Persichetti, and Witold Lutos?awski, is an important modernist. Befand Witold Lutos?awski, is an important modernist. Before 1975, he worked with 12-tone systems, but since then he has Read more converted to post-serialism, making his music much easier to understand. As professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy, he has had a great deal of influence over the education of the next generation of Finnish composers, among them Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. He calls his recently written Flute Concerto “Autrefois” (Former Times) and he relates it to the Sibelius pastoral piece of that same name, but the music of Heininen’s piece is thoroughly his own. His commission stipulated that he was to write for a small orchestra that included strings, wind instruments, and harp, as well as the solo flute. Therefore he wrote some beautifully lyric passages for both harp and flute. On this premiere recording, flutist Mikael Helasvuo, the former first chair of the Helsinki Radio Orchestra and current professor of wind instruments at the Sibelius Academy, plays Heininen’s music with enthralling tonal colors. In the first movement, “Scherzo et Elegia,” the scherzo and the elegy are two sides of the same coin. Comedy mirrors tragedy as the flute blends with the orchestra and the music wends its way though Heininen’s sound garden. The second movement continues the summer images, while the third, “Berceuse et Dithyrambos” concludes this charming Concerto on a happy note with a joyful ancient Greek hymn that honors Dionysus.

Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto was first performed in Paris in 1926. After a few revisions made by the composer the following year, it entered the international repertoire and it has remained there ever since. Helasvuo also gives us the original ending as well as the one most often heard. Nielsen’s robust piece is very different from Heininen’s and it crackles with dramatic electricity. The Nielsen work is a fine vehicle for Helasvuo and the excellent players of the Saimaa Sinfonietta led by Tibor Bogányi. In this two-movement work, the virtuoso flutist plays with a wide range of emotion and dynamics. Although his technique is amazing, it is his graceful phrasing of the lyric passages that enchants the listener. Bogányi and the Sinfonietta add their interpretations of this exquisite piece, blending their many voices to make this a memorable performance. Because the Heininen piece is brand new, there are no comparable recordings. There are recordings of the Nielsen, however. Warner Classics’ 2007 disc, featuring Emmanuel Pahud and Sabine Meyer playing Nielsen’s Flute and Clarinet concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Simon Rattle, is very strong competition. It has a lush sound with which the smaller Finnish ensemble cannot compete. Neither recording has a very intimate ambience, but both have good balance between soloist and orchestra. I suggest buying the Alba CD for the stunning beauty of the new Heininen work.

FANFARE: Maria Nockin

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HEININEN Flute Concerto , “Autrefois.” NIELSEN Flute Concerto Mikael Helasvuo (fl); Tibor Bogányi, cond; Saimaa Snf ALBA 350 (57:28)

The flute is an indispensable instrument in the orchestra, providing gaiety, color, and wit at the top of the woodwind section, but it is rather limited as a solo instrument. Few major composers since the Baroque era have attempted concertos for it, and even Mozart’s have their limitations; can one envision Beethoven or Brahms writing a flute concerto? Poulenc, yes, and perhaps (for different reasons) Hindemith, but not Bartók; even Khachaturian’s had to be transcribed from another instrument. In his aborted quest to write concertos for all five instrumentalists of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, Carl Nielsen came as close as anyone to providing a masterpiece for the flutist.

The music of Paavo Heininen (b. 1938) received a great deal of attention some decades ago; there were more than a dozen reviews in Fanfare Volumes 12–15 (1989–1991)—but only one since (in 36:6), in a multiple composer collection. The earlier works were fairly avant-garde for their era, incorporating various 20th-century-isms, and received generally complimentary notices. Age seems to have mellowed the Finnish composer; his 2008/2010 Flute Concerto is brightly consonant, with only the solo instrument casting a few flicks of dissonance. The orchestration is light yet rich, a lovely blend. The music varies in mood from elegiac to fluffy; slower moments exhibit a charming serenity. The first two movements (“Scherzo et Elegia,” “Sonata”) contain enough variety to sustain their 17-minute total, but a 17-minute Finale (“Berceuse et Dithyrambos”) meanders and outlasts its welcome. Nevertheless, this is a very nice Concerto, beautifully played by all, in sparkling recorded sound.

In the manner of his late symphonies, Nielsen’s Flute Concerto explodes into life. Mikael Helasvuo plays brilliantly, but he lacks the depth of color displayed by Julius Baker in the Sony 4-CD set of Nielsen orchestral music. The Saimaa Sinfonietta, so successful in Heinenin, cannot match the muscle and panache of Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic in Nielsen. The Finnish performers’ quicker tempos do add excitement, making up some of the losses. This is an enjoyable performance, even if it slights the dynamic guts Nielsen poured into all his late music.

Due to illness, Nielsen had trouble finishing his Flute Concerto in time for its premiere. He later expanded the Finale into the music we know. A bonus track on this disc gives us a first recording of the Finale with its original ending. The original is shorter and its coda more conventional than in the final version, but it’s beautiful both ways.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Flute, FS 119 by Carl Nielsen
Performer:  Mikael Helasvuo (Flute)
Conductor:  Tibor Bogányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saimaa Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Denmark 
Concerto for Flute "Autrefois" by Paavo Heininen
Performer:  Mikael Helasvuo (Flute)
Conductor:  Tibor Bogányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saimaa Sinfonietta
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Finland 

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