Sebastian Fagerlund: Oceano. © 2021 BIS Records AB

CD Spotlight

Immediate and Colourful

GEOFF PEARCE listens to Sebastian Fagerlund

'... probably definitive performances of these works.'


Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund (born 1972) has written many works and has been widely performed. Often described as a post-modern impressionist, his music echoes varied sources. Whilst unmistakably contemporary in nature, his music is engaging and rhythm places a large part in his soundscape. Having listened to a few of his works online as well as the recordings on this CD, he has an obvious flair for instrumentation and his music is immediate and colourful.

Oceano for violin, viola and cello is a two movement work from 2011. The first movement starts slowly with drones on the cello and then cries on the viola which evolve melodically and are then taken up by the violin, and then return to the viola. It reminds me of dawn on a beach in calm weather. The momentum builds, the music becomes quite animated and a dance-like figure emerges before this subsides to a rippling calm.

Listen — Fagerlund: Sonore (Oceano)
(track 1, 3:30-4:19) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

The second movement is spiky and agitated. The music is very driven and requires great virtuosity from the trio, as the rhythm changes constantly and the music is fast, apart from some slower passages, especially in the second half of the movement, which seems like a kind of lament. I find this work exciting and the mood constantly shifts like the rhythm. It is very intense, even during slower and quieter sections. I find it refreshingly honest music that is free from effects for their own sake.

Fuel is scored for clarinet, cello and piano. It uses the same material as a larger work composed about the same time for orchestra called Ignite but the character and treatment is very different. I listened to that work just a few days ago, to get an idea of the comparison. The work is designed to be played without a break, but on the CD it is divided into tracks. One can appreciate, in the first one, that strong pulsating rhythms are attractive to the composer. Each movement lasts around one or two minutes, and perhaps I would not have broken it up as this CD has, because the changes of character fairly clearly delineate the sections. One can sense a variety of emotions and influences as this music plays and there are plenty of changes of mood and colour. The fast bubbly movements are vivacious and full of energy and the slower movements are at times seductive, but also there is a brooding quality.

Listen — Fagerlund: Sonore (Fuel)
(track 6, 1:30-2:10) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

Transient Light was composed in 2013 at the bequest of horn player Hervé Joulain, who performs it here, along with piano, violin and cello. This very colourful and exciting work has a lot of interesting writing, with strong rhythmic sections and others where the music is calmer and more ethereal. I find this a very effective work and have listened multiple times, such was my enjoyment.

Listen — Fagerlund: Transient Light
(track 9, 4:48-5:39) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

The enjoyable Clarinet Sonata (2010), with three contrasting movements, was written for Christoffer Sundqvist, who is also the clarinettist on this recording. I have heard this performed by two other clarinettists, but not with the same flair as Sundqvist. I suspect this will become a major work in the clarinet repertoire.

Listen — Fagerlund: Introduzione quasi libero - Esaltato (Clarinet Sonata)
(track 12, 1:32-2:19) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

The short Scherzic (2008), scored for viola and cello, is a vivacious dance-like work. Whilst it is somewhat minimalistic in thematic nature, there is plenty of variation here with the shifting rhythms and the final section's middle eastern like feel.

Listen — Fagerlund: Scherzic
(track 13, 2:47-3:45) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

String Quartet No 1, Verso L'Interno (2007) features the excellent Meta4 Quartet. It is in six fairly short movements of a contrasting nature: a prologue, three dances, two canto and a epilogue. To quite a large extent, this reminds me of some of the Bartók quartets (which were the first string quartets I ever heard), not only in the strong and striking rhythmic dances, but also in the almost static Canto movements. This is certainly a work to hear. For a first work in this genre, this piece is quite remarkable, and this group's performance is very fine and committed.

Listen — Fagerlund: Canto; Mesto (Verso L'Interno)
(track 17, 2:42-3:35) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

This is not a disc that everyone will enjoy, but I think anyone who enjoys contemporary music should find it worthwhile. The performances are fine, and as many of the performers have worked with the composer directly, I would go so far as to say that these are probably definitive performances of these works.

The recording quality, as with all BIS recordings I have heard, is exceptional. There are about seventy minutes of music here, and the booklet notes are informative. This disc has been a real find for me, and is one I will enjoy frequently.

Copyright © 12 December 2021 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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