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Josef JONSSON (1887-1969)
Symphony No. 1 Op. 23 Nordland (1919-22) [49.53]
Symphony No. 2 Op. 34 in D minor (1928-30) [20.28]
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Lü Jia
rec. De Geer Hall, Norrköping, 14-15 Sept 2001 (1), 17-18 Sept 2001 (2) DDD
Musica Sveciae Modern Classics No. 20

Jonsson's first two of three symphonies are here performed by the orchestra of his home city. Norrköping was the scene of many of his premieres and there he was guaranteed sustained attention. The orchestra performed forty-four of his works of which twenty-six were premieres. He wrote the programme notes for the orchestra's concert seasons from 1905 onwards. In early childhood he contracted polio and was lifelong confined to a wheelchair. Jonsson's style was closer to the Schumann-Gade Germanic romanticism than to strong Swedish nationalism-impressionism. Certainly when you compare him with Pergament in the 1920s Jonsson's music is traditional and romantically old-fashioned.

The Nordland Symphony, while carrying bardic verses as a superscription to each movement, stays firmly within the bounds set by Schumann and Mendelssohn. He may perhaps be cast as a Swedish Fibich. The Symphony is not without folksy atmosphere and some rustically piping delicacy and playfulness in the inner two movements. The finale plays for 20.30 and has some mood-parallels with the sunset idylls of Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony - a much stronger work with an assertive Tchaikovskian presence. The Delian glow and fade is superbly sustained by Jonsson and links back to the almost equally magical second movement. This is an expansive late-romantic piece with its forebears in Raff but with winds of change from Grieg and early Ludolf Nielsen.

The First Symphony was premiered on 10 October 1923 by the Gothenburg orchestra conducted by Ture Rangström. The work was given its Stockholm premiere on 30 January 1924 conducted by his supporter Kurt Atterberg. Atterberg greeted his Missa Solemnis (1936) as ‘a Swedish masterpiece’.

The Second Symphony was premiered at Norrköping conducted by the then principal conductor Tard Brenner. Adolf Wiklund conducted its first performance in Stockholm. This is a much less garrulous work than the First. It still has the same Romantic DNA but ideas are more concentrated - less rhapsodic-meandering. The work is unusual in having three fast and energetic movements with the only adagio marking being part of the middle movement. This music reminded me a little of Stanford and Sullivan but the Schumann-Mendelssohn mulch and folk origins are clear enough.

There is also a Third Symphony, as yet unrecorded. That is his Op. 50 in C minor. It was premiered by none other than the Norrköping Orchestra conducted by Heinz Freudenthal on 26 October 1947.

Jonsson has even more personality in the garrulous First Symphony than in the Second. This is certainly for you if you are partial to Gade and Raff with a Scandinavian flavour.

Well documented, performed and recorded symphonies written in an unflinchingly late-romantic traditional style with Germanic forebears and a light dusting of nationalistic flavour.

Rob Barnett

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