Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Gösta NYSTROEM (1890-1966)
The Tempest Prelude (1934)
Songs by the Sea (1943)
Sinfonia del Mare (1948)
Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo)
Swedish Radio Choir (female section)
Swedish RSO/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, 4-5 Dec 1997 (Del Mare); 10-14 Jan 2000
Musica Sveciae Modern Classics series
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Wonderful! The first Nystroem disc since BIS and Paavo Järvi produced the viola concerto. This one deserves every success. It presents Nystroem the Nordic singer and marine poet. In the symphony he catches the murmuring miles and sea sorrow better than most.

Nystroem's Tempest prelude is just as onomatopoeic as the Sibelius but with a harshness and stridency magnified by the siren contrast of a vocalising female choir. The prelude is extravagant with resources using a wordless choir and a wind machine. The choir combines the qualities of Debussy's Sirènes with Holst's Neptune. There are some hugely Baxian convulsions along the way, a priapic trumpet (6.54) and a regretful swansong for the principal oboe. This is the prelude's first ever recording.

In all three works the sea is unequivocally a player and motivator. The Songs By the Sea have been well recorded before on Swedish Society Discofil though again age tells so far as sound quality is concerned. The work is a cycle for mezzo and orchestra. While the middle movement dances on a Nordic sward beside the sea the four outer songs lovingly reflect in icy and dazzlingly sharp focus the unhurrying swell of the sea, the rocking motion of the waves (3.20 in Nocturne) and their counterpoint with human love. This is true music of the sea not, as in the case of Rubinstein and Raff, music that has sea titles attached to notes that could just as easily celebrate a woodland stroll.

The greatest interest focuses on the Sinfonia del Mare. Of the three versions I have heard this is the best recorded; stunningly so. Catch the gruff bark of the trombones and the sheeny moonlit strings. Peerless. The Tor Mann version on the old Dial LP is very fine. The Westerberg, still available on Swedish Society Discofil, has Söderström in gloriously fresh voice must take pride of place but its analogue recording is almost 30 years old and though its pastel edge-softened approach is so apt to the music it cannot compare at an audio-technical level with Svetlanov's.

Svetlanov is an inspirational conductor and I have high regard for his work especially his Tchaikovsky. A recent Harmonia Mundi Khachaturyan collection is provocative and full of challenging life. Here, however, he relaxes more. The precision and lunge of the ensemble as found in Westerberg is eluded though by the finest of shadings. Svetlanov's soprano though she is very good indeed is not the equal of Söderström who manages to suggest girlish vulnerability alongside the elemental strength of the sea. Hellekant has more of a dark chesty shading to her voice.

By the way this is one occasion where I must depart from Robert Layton's judgement. I know that he finds (I speak from memory) Del Mare formless and vapid. For me this work catches the essence of the striding, whispering, glimmering sea sorrow - a hyper-romantic work startlingly inspired not by Northern seas but by time spent in the Mediterranean. Not all that unusual: Peterson-Berger, Nielsen and Sibelius each wrote some of their finest music looking out on that warm ocean.

Which way to jump? For most listeners I would commend this disc. The balance between the three works is perfect. Here is Nystroem at his most accessible. No matter how much I call out for CDs of the Sinfonia Tramontana, Sinfonia Shakespeariana and Violin Concerto (and they must come) those works with their oblique language and avoidance of immersed tunefulness will not win Nystroem immediate new friends.

This disc is superbly recorded and if you are to have one collection of Nystroem this must be it. Everything is clear and registers boldly and with poignancy. Connoisseurs will however still want the Westerberg version of the symphony.

Rob Barnett

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