Heinonen Plays Sibelius

PCL10220 - cover

SIBELIUS: 6 Impromptus. Piano Sonatina No. 1. 5 Pieces, Op. 75, “The Trees.” 10 Pieces, Op. 24 / Eero Heinonen, pno / Piano Classics PCL 10220

Famed as a symphonist and composer of tone poems, Sibelius’ piano output is scarcely on most people’s radar. Even the composer said as much late in life: “I know that they have some future, although today they are almost entirely forgotten.” Thus this revival of his pieces by Finnish pianist Eero Heinonen is particularly welcome.

From the first notes of the first Impromptu, one is aware that this is no ordinary late-Romantic piano music, but music of great atmosphere and depth. It is music that must be played with considerable emotion in order to be appreciated, something that also goes for Sibelius’ orchestral music. Playing Sibelius without feeling is like any other composer of great worth; there is so much beneath the surface of the notes that must be brought out in order to make the music work, and this Heinonen does to full effect. Indeed, one should pay attention to the second Impromptu, a fast piece in G minor. This is exactly the kind of piece that could be, and probably would be, played in a very shallow manner by any number of “virtuosi” around nowadays, but the way Heinonen performs it you know that there is something much deeper behind it.

Mind you, the notes themselves are not very difficult to play. Sibelius was no master pianist, and writing something that called for a great technique was not his aim. He was a pantheist who loved nature, a man of great emotions rather than one of huge intellectual capacities. He painted with music, bringing out his emotional states in each phrase, so that even the fifth of these pieces, which is more brilliant than the others and even a bit flashy, should not be played with mere flash. I’m a little sorry that such a master of color and feeling as Shura Cherkassky never discovered Sibelius’ piano pieces. He would have made something of them as Heinonen does here.

Interestingly, the opening movement of the Piano Sonatina is rather playful for Sibelius, though quickly dipping into the minor and taking unexpected twists and turns. According to the notes, all three of his piano sonatinas were dedicated to Martha Tornell, his daughter’s piano teacher, yet even here, writing for a professional pianist, Sibelius eschews empty frills and flash. Not surprisingly, the five pieces bearing the subtitle “The Trees” are all mood pieces, and very dark and somber mood pieces at that, but the Op. 24 10 Pieces are mostly brisk and powerful.

I didn’t delve too much into the structure of any of these works because, at this point in time, I would think that Sibelius’ style is pretty well known to most people, but I assure you that the brevity of most of these pieces does not mean they are shallow bagatelles. An excellent new release, and an important addition to the Sibelius discography.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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