Jonathan Östlund is a young Swedish composer residing in London. For the most part, his music on the present CDs is very enjoyable to listen to. He seems to have discovered his true voice at a relatively early age. Östlund’s music possesses the most vital ingredient for a composer: He makes you want to listen to him. Judging from the music here, Östlund already has become a sure hand at writing miniatures. That is an unusual gift, for it requires the ability to match brief forms to melodic shapes. This resembles finding the perfect setting for a beautiful jewel. It certainly helps that Östlund has a genuine affinity for lyricism. He does not produce big Romantic melodies yet, but that may come eventually. Think of how long it took Ralph Vaughan Williams to start writing beautiful tunes. Östlund possesses a notably poetic spirit, with a touch of sentiment and melancholy. He balances this with an impish wit that is really quite delightful. He comes across as a quite likable young man, if one is to judge overall from his compositions. It just goes to prove that you can be a Romantic artist without engaging in heavy-duty suffering. You may not turn out a Symphonie fantastique this way, but what you do compose still can have value. I think Jonathan Östlund is a very valuable young fellow.
Lunaris , the album’s title work, is a lovely melisma for soprano, piano, and a recording of the black-throated loon. It effectively introduces you to Östlund’s world. He joins the distinguished company of Ottorino Respighi and Einojuhani Rautavaara in employing recordings of bird song. Opus Pocus Fantienne is a delightful little divertissement for flute and piano. The same combo performs a wistful composition called Phantasion. Air dans l’air is a witty title for a witty solo piece that deftly explores the flute’s coloristic possibilities. Eleonore Pameijer has a ball with it. Lumière d’étoiles is an alternately spiky and dreamy work for piano, in which the black-throated loon makes an eerily distant appearance.
One of the album’s most appealing pieces is the Fantasia on Scarborough Fair . Östlund very wisely does little to disguise the tune as it passes back and forth among an ensemble of flute, cello, and piano. I wonder if he knows the Simon and Garfunkel version of the melody. Such is the beauty of the theme that when I described the Fantasia to a group of people not interested in classical music, they all wanted to hear this composition. Rencontre is a sort of Swedish version of the tango for flute and piano. Was Östlund inspired by Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango for the same instruments? The Wizard is basically a humoresque for the interesting combination of flute, violin, cello, and piano. Rêverie—Jeux de pluie is beautifully, idiomatically written for string quartet. A fantasy in four parts, it is the album’s most successful work in exhibiting its composer’s distinctive voice.
Night-struck is an atmospheric and edgy piece. It begins with a gently quizzical “Invocation” for solo cello, while the work’s last notes for piano imitate a bird call. Cellist Alexander Zagorinsky and pianist Einar Steen-Nøkleberg give it a superb performance. Winter Vigil for piano represents Östlund’s poetic streak at its best. It gives you the feeling of someone looking out a window at a snow covered landscape. Blandine Waldmann plays imaginatively. Rêve et Lune for soprano and piano is a kind of Scandinavian take on Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. Miroir d’un mirage for piano is the longest and least successful work on the album. Its title and those of its movements are an homage to the Ravel of Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit , but there is little here in the way of thematic integration. The piece is held together through rhythmic patterns, with small evidence of Östlund’s lyric gift. It’s certainly worth listening to, yet I doubt it has staying power. La Féerique et Pierrot for soprano vocalise and piano has a delightfully enchanted atmosphere. There is a brief appearance by the black-throated loon. The Frog Pond for bassoon and piano is a charming bit of vaudeville filled with croaking sounds. Bassoonist Ursula Leveaux relishes her depiction of the frogs. Music at Moonrise is a good bagatelle for violin and piano. It segues into a slightly different version of Lunaris to end the album.
The performances throughout these CDs range from committed to excellent, and the sound engineering is very good. Jonathan Östlund is an engaging composer who clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Anyone who relishes lyricism and a poetic spirit should find much to enjoy in this album.