The city's year-long and intermittent festival of Scandinavian music continued last night at the Library of Congress, with a program including a world premiere of a work by Ulf Grahn, Washington's own Scandinavian composer.
This year Grahn, who comes from Sweden and founded the Contemporary Music Forum here, has written a two-movement Violin Sonata that is both eccentric and musically arresting. There is a lengthy opening movement that starts high on the violin and develops very chromatically to set a mood of meditative solitude. There are touches that suggest composers from Scriabin to Prokofiev to Crumb. Sometimes the movement, which is occasionally interrupted by other elements, meanders a bit. But it does have focused expressive power. There is also tacked on a second little movement that is in the propulsive mode; it is decent enough, but it isn't really needed. The performance by violinist Helmut Braunlich and pianist Barbro Dahlman was painstaking and effective.
Another interesting, if not terribly substantial, work was a brief tour de force of a piano sonata called "The Fire Sermon" by the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. It is a piano showpiece. Notes cascade from all ranges like fireworks. When the fingers will not make a big enough sound, forearms are used. It is flamboyant, and that is how Dahlman played it.
The opening number was the String Quartet of the Danish master Carl Nielsen. This is a tender, moving work by Nielsen at his most civilized. There is that wonderful Nielsen lyricism, but just as in the symphonies, there is an undercurrent of anxiety. The fine performance was by the Jefferson Quartet, a well matched and relatively new group that Braunlich has organized here. The quartet and Dahlman also go under the umbrella name of the Aurora Players, of which Grahn is music director.
The finale was the Piano Quintet of the 19th-century Swedish composer Franz Berwald. It has rested in obscurity for more than a century, and last night showed little hope that justice will call compellingly for its revival.