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(1796 - 1868)
Complete Duos.
In D Minor for violin and piano 18'22"
Fantasy on two Swedish folk-melodies 7'29"
Concertino in A Minor for Violin & piano (fragment) 2'40"
Duo Concertant in A Minor for two violins 24'48"
Duo in B Flat Major for Cello and Piano 17'07"

Tobias Ringborg (violin) ; David Bergström (violin) ;
Mats Rondin (cello) ; Bengt-Åke Lundin (piano).
Recorded Örebro, Sweden. 19 - 21 May 1997 DDD
Naxos 8.554286 [70'20"]
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Franz Berwald today is a composer, best known for his four symphonies, but even at that hardly a household name. In his native Sweden he struggled manfully to make a name for himself - fighting against a smugly conservative, musical society content in its own ways and happy to continue to enjoy its music primarily in the form of intimate pieces for home consumption. Occasional performances of foreign works were to be heard in Stockholm, but these were usually of safe, dull works that were even then old-fashioned and considerably behind what was current in the more sophisticated countries to the south. The whole picture was of a musical waste-land as far as a Swedish composer whose aim was to write adventurous symphonies was concerned.

Driven to seek a living elsewhere (he was a skilled orthopedic surgeon), Berwald continued to write in his spare time, returned to Sweden - again without making his mark - went off once more to some minor success in Vienna, and finally settled in his homeland to run a glass works. Realising that his composing plans needed to change, this was when he stated to write chamber music and the bulk of the music on this disc is from that period (1849 - 59). Berwald was a violinist himself and following the current fashion was then regularly involved in playing small scale, intimate music with friends in the evenings.

The three movement Duo in D Minor for Violin and Piano of 1858 has some florid piano runs and a passionate centre section in the opening Allegro, a pleasant violin melody in the Andante and the linked Allegro giocoso with contrasting moods. Attributed to Berwald - the only extant manuscript is not in his hand - the piece for solo piano Fantasy on two Swedish folk-melodies is a showy piece with lots of flourishes for the performer to indulge himself. A fragment only of a Concertino in A Minorleaves one wanting more as it cuts off in mid passage.

A younger Berwald (around 1816 when he was 20 or so) wrote the Duo Concertant in A Minor for Two Violins - a work he may have played in public with his younger brother. Its centrepiece is an extended Andatino con varizioni that uses a simple but attractive theme as its source in an imaginative set of variations shared equally by the two players. A charming, lively Rondo, much of it in unison, ends the work. The B Flat Major Duo for Cello and Piano opens with an Allegro that explores, mainly on the cello, a pleasant snatch of melody, which leads to a wistful Adagio, with a powerful closing Allegro.

The Swedish instrumentalists are excellent and the recording (with a minor reservation about an over prominent piano in the two Duo's) is good. This release is a compilation of safe, uninspiring music with moderate interest for the non-devotee.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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