Fagerlund’s “Water Atlas”


FAGERLUND: Nomade for Cello & Orchestra. Water Atlas / Nicolas Alstaedt, cel; Finnish Radio Symphony Orch.; Hannu Lintu, cond / Bis SACD-2455

Sebastian Fagerlund is a Finnish composer born in 1972 who focused primarily on orchestral works prior to 2010. Nomade (2018), commissioned by the Hamburg NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, is apparently typical of his work: highly dramatic but essentially tonal, emphasizing mood as much if not more than structure. I found it interesting, particularly in his use of microtones in places for the solo cellist, which gives the music a sort of peculiar Middle Eastern slant.

To a certain extent, Fagerlund’s music is also typical of the modern “shock” style of writing in which loud bitonal outbursts help move the music along, but he clearly has his own individual style and tries to be original. The six movements of Nomade are connected, with two “Interludes” coming between the second and third and fourth and fifth. Despite its edgy moments, the music is for the most part engaging and interesting. My sole caveat is that some of it (particularly the Interludes, but also the “Lento contemplativo” in the fourth movement) seems to gravitate towards the kind of “ambient music” so much in vogue nowadays.

Water Atlas (2017-18) is very much in the shock style of writing, opening with ominous tympani rolls against agitated string, wind and brass figures. Following this opening, we get the expected soft-mysterious music with suspended string chords and occasional interjections by the harp, piano and brass instruments. This, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of other composers, is a style of writing made popular by Thomas Adès back in the 1990s that has proven to be highly influential. In this work, too, there seems to be a certain relationship to minimalism, as the music stays in one chord for an extremely long period while the surrounding material slowly builds up to a ferocious climax. By the 9:30 mark, however, Fagerlund has built up to a frenzied passage that includes swooping trombones, only to fall back once again to mysterious music, here again using microtones in the string section. By and large, however, I didn’t feel that Water Atlas developed nearly as well as Nomade; much of it tends to stay in the same general mood, only with alternating sections with different volume levels, without as much in the way of development rather than just powerful orchestral effects.

An interesting disc, then, but somewhat uneven in musical quality. The performances by Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony, however, are exemplary, as is the crystal-clear SACD sound.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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