Classical Lost And Found

Classical Lost And Found: Armas Jarnefelt Emerges From The Shadow Of Sibelius

cover image for Armas Jarnefelt album i i

Finnish composer Armas Jarnefelt's music was overshadowed by that of his brother-in-law, Jean Sibelius. Courtesy of BIS Records hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of BIS Records
cover image for Armas Jarnefelt album

Finnish composer Armas Jarnefelt's music was overshadowed by that of his brother-in-law, Jean Sibelius.

Courtesy of BIS Records

As far as Finnish composers go, Armas Jarnefelt (1869-1958) picked a bad time to be born. His music remains eclipsed by his illustrious contemporary, fellow countryman and brother-in-law, Jean Sibelius.

Jarnefelt studied in France and Germany where he became a devotee of Wagner's music, and his Symphonic Fantasy, which opens this new recording, shows it. The music prompted Finnish critics to savage it after its Helsinki premiere in 1895. The piece wouldn't be heard again in Finland until 2008.

The twenty-minute tone poem (without a program) seems rooted in Wagner's late operas, yet there are cool, lucid passages typical of other Scandinavian composers like Hugo Alfven. And the piece anticipates the tone poems that would soon come from Richard Strauss.

The anguished opening turns optimistic, then pensive as Jarnefelt treats us to a heartfelt central section. Towards the end, the music breaks into a brief jubilant scherzo, and the Fantasy concludes peacefully, leaving one feeling that the critics misjudged it.

The five-movement symphonic Suite in E-flat, from two years later, sounds more Scandinavian, with an opening andantino recalling Grieg's orchestral dances. There's also a hint of Massenet's Scenes Alsaciennes, which is not surprising considering he was one of Järnefelt's teachers.

Jarnefelt album cover
BIS Records

Gallic lyricism pervades the adagio, while a parade of toy soldiers passes by in the presto. The melancholy lento proceeds directly into a final march-like allegro that's a tasteful blend of Tchaikovsky and Elgar.

One of Jarnefelt's earliest orchestral works, the Serenade, from 1893, was written in Paris. It's in six movements of varying mood, the first three being a miniature march, an aria-like andante, and a wistful adagio. The latter, for violin and strings, became one of his most popular pieces with a life on its own. There's also a rustic waltz, a moment of Latin reflection and, finally, a Nordic, foot-stomping finale.

Hear the 'Adagio' from Jarnefelt's Serenade (Jaakko Kuusisto conducts the Lahti Symphony)

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The album closes with Jarnefelt's Berceuse (from 1904), which was a musical get-well card for his ailing daughter. Along with his Praeludium (not on this disc), it's unfortunately the only piece he's remembered for today, but hopefully this disc will help remedy that.

Conductor Jaakko Kuusisto (doubling up as solo violinist) leads the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in tender, loving performances, making a strong case for music that's been out of circulation far too long.

Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his web site Classical Lost and Found.

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