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Reflections of a River Valley: A Portrait of Erik Fordell - Kangas

Reflections of a River Valley: A Portrait of Erik Fordell - Kangas

Alba Records  ABCD 404

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Erik Fordell: In folk style, Airs, A Nordic Romance, Spring song, In Finnish Folkstyle, Moon vigil, The Last Day of April, Folk song from Ostrobothnia, 3 Älvdal Pictures, Folk Song from Ostrobothnia II, There is Still a Flower, A Romance from the River Valley, Night, Nocturne, The July Night is Already Fading, The Summer Meadow, Folk Song from Ostrobothnia III, Divertimento Pulakka II, Impromptu, Benedictus, Piano Notes, Op. 1, A Big Farmer, Old Folk Melody from Vittsar

Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra
Juha Kangas (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - October 11, 2017

Have you heard of a composer called Eric Fordell? I certainly hadn't, until, in the current Finnish 'ALBA' catalogue, I was attracted by an SACD with a beautiful misty B/W photograph cover. It is entitled "Reflections of a River Valley" and below a smaller text "A PORTRAIT OF THE COMPOSER ERIK FORDELL". I bought it.

Erik Fordell was born in 1917 in the region of Ostrobothnia on the west side of Finland, in the town of Kokkola. He died in 1981, at Kaarlela, still in Ostrobothnia. For a composer little known outside Finland, Fordell's output was enormous: 45 symphonies (1949–81); 2 violin concertos (1955, 1959); Horn Concerto (1956); 4 piano concertos (1961–62); 8 string suites; 4 wind quintets; 7 string quartets; Violin Sonata; Flute Sonata; many piano pieces and choral music; songs.

Fordel's first encounter of music was his father, player of harmonium and cornet. He learned the piano before the alphabet such was his youthful interest in music, also writing his first composition as a schoolboy. After school, he didn't leave it for music, but spent five years working at a chrome leather factory; but there was much music in his spare time. Finally he joined the Helsinki Church Music College - where Aarre Merkanto taught theory. During the two years of his course, he went to go to the rehearsals of the nearby Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Fordell next returned to Kokkola in 1938; from there he went to further training, returning for a while again to Helsinki (composition) and the Sibelius Academy (orchestral conducting). Later he spent periods away from Finland to complete his education in The Netherlands (1965) and Austria (Vienna 1964, 1967 and 1969). For development of his future musical career, he remained based in Kokkola, and some historians believe that he could have become publicly well-known in Helsinki rather than remain in Ostrobothnia. However, he took interest in anything in which music was involved, and he became a composer who blazed a self-critical trail.

From playing at the restaurants in Kokkola (1938-1955), Fordell supported himself. But as a fine teacher, he also taught violin, cello or piano, and give concerts with his compositions at various locations. Avidly, Fordell wrote about music, culture, economics and moral values in newspapers and made reviews of other musicians (1940 onwards). The radio was used by him all over the Nordic area, talking about music and conducting or broadcasting many of his short pieces for choirs and soloist singers.

Ultimately, the Finnish State declaimed Fordell as an official artist (1978), with a salary, and he was the recipient of the title 'Director musices'. He said "My time has not yet come, but it will come, and it will not end!"

Juha Kangas is a violinist and conductor, best known for his outstanding work with the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, which he has built into an ensemble of international reputation. Kangas has a great interest in Fordell, and it is Kangas that put forward this concert on SACD to ALBA. It has a wide range of musicians, based on the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and recorded by the excellent Simon Fox-Gál. The venue was the Snellman Hall, Kokkola, a place where Fordell performed many times. Sessions were done intermittently from 5 June 2014 - 24 Nov 2016, resulting an attractive concert-like arrangement of 27 items.

Apart from the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, with Kangas as conductor, there are two sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, violin, two piano players, the Aglepta Mixed Choir and Pulakka Quartet. All this obviously dedicated work is to illustrate six decades of music by Erik Fordell. All the songs have the texts in the booklet, in three languages, Swedish, Finnish and English, and the data given out about the Fordell music scores etc, together with a quite detailed life history by Kirsti Raseborg.

What does Fordell's music sound like? First, remember that the items on this SACD are relatively small, but that the mass of forty-five symphonies NOT on this disc may possibly sound quite different in style(s). Fordell lived during a time in which classical music was going through an upheaval. Late Romantic, was breaking up and reforming the way composers used dissonance. Also, use of folksong increased; a look at the programme of the River Valley here shows there are full folk songs in their own rite and other pieces have folk styles in their other melodies. Of course, Ostrobothnia outputs much more in folk music than elsewhere in Finland - even back to medieval times, and these have been used by many Finnish composers, including Sibelius.

Fordell described his own music as a "Master of Nature's lyricism" which is a fine description. As well as this, he was a very good melody-maker. Overall, his main style is Late Romantic with a touch or two of the "gentle dissonance", so expressive in many ways. Until tracks 23-29, however, where there is a radical change, as if Fordell had leaped into modernism. At Track 23, "Impromptu", 1950, with Kiril Kozlovsky at the piano, is a series of sweetly played runs, which in a badly wrong chord is quite comical. So are other tricks - like a sudden on-off banging of keys, interrupting a gentle "walk". At Track 24 (1960), Benedictus (a sacred piece but not here) with Reijo Tunkkari on the violin and Tero Tavalla play the piano with a gentle long melody, the lower range keeps going very off key - i.e. bitonal.

"Piano Notes" (Track 25, 1962) is marked 'Andante, e molto espressio' and 'Lento appassionato', here meaning short phrases and single notes very softly sung, then disrupting them with loud chords of strong dissonance. Track 26 (1976) introduces 'A Big Farmer' no doubt for the males of Aglepta; what else could be so alcoholic - staccato words, dragging on lines... Track 27 (1980), 'Old Melody from Vittsar' with the Ostrobothnial chamber orchestra which really sounds like it is making old dances with gentle dissonance which gets worse and worse. This piece sounds like a comic given to the orchestra for fun.

Summarising, we are brought to the world of Erik Fordell in a concert of music which at first reflects the calm, lyrical Nature shown in the picture of a misty river valley, then shows Fordell in an entirely different offering. I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to a composer and I want to hear more. I would hereby ask ALBA if they could make an SACD of several of Fordell's symphonies. On this disc, the Ostrobothnian string orchestra is in splendid form, as it is its conductor Juha Kangas in making this opening of Fordell's art to a wider set of listeners, beyond Ostrobothnia. The choir is also inspiring, and the solos and quartet are obviously putting their best before us. All of this is recorded as expected from Simon Fox-Gál. The Snellman Hall can be divided into two parts, and possible that was done here, as there is only a medium amount of reverberation. But the choir have a notable and beautiful reverberation and clear positioning, probably by moving microphones.

As noted above, the generally fine disc booklet has most of the info required to follow Fordell's life. But I have found an irritating mistake in design; in the 4 pages listing the tracks; the already very small font has been covered in large dark grey rectangles on each page, making it very difficult to read the contents - also those on the back page summary. These are a critical part of the text for every one, and it should be made MORE readable rather than less.

Clearly Fordell was not a Beethoven or Sibelius, but a man with an active brain in many aspects of life. His music is certainly enjoyable, especially in his "Master of Nature's lyricism" idea, and his symphonies may be even more exciting. Where are they? In a number of ways, Fordell and Selim Palmgren have similarities, and Palmgren was also active at home where he worked hard. But now his work is becoming heard more widely. Fans of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra will want to try "Reflections of a River Valley" and the concert style of this disc would give anyone entertainment in various ways. Buy a copy!

Copyright © 2017 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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