Composers: Heino Eller
Compositions: Symphonic poems
Performers: Estonian National SO/Olari Elts
Catalogue Number: ONDINE ODE1335-2
It was a dark and stormy night… The famous phrase applies perfectly to Heino Eller’s Night Calls, a symphonic poem that the Estonian composer wrote in 1920-21. This exciting piece, with its suggestions of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Liadov’s Kikimora, opens this orchestral program.
Eller is one of those fine 20th-century composers whose music is being rediscovered and reassessed after a period of political vicissitudes and changes of fashion. Much of his piano music has been recorded recently, and this release is the second from these forces. Their previous disc included his Violin Concerto and Second Symphony, but on this showing Eller was most at home writing nature-inspired symphonic poems. Although born in Estonia and strongly influenced by folk music, Eller spent 1907 to 1920 in St. Petersburg. This probably explains the Russian flavour of Night Calls, Twilight and Dawn; the latter two his first major successes. His colourful orchestral writing is assured, and as the booklet states, his music often reveals a “bittersweet lyricism”.
The central work here, long thought lost, is the symphonic suite White Night. Written in 1939, it is a masterpiece, built around a plaintive “White Night” melody, and containing rousing movements in waltz and march rhythms. Olari Elts and the Estonian National Orchestra give vital, compelling performances, and the recording quality is vivid. If you want to delve into Eller, start here.