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Niccolo PAGANINI (1782 – 1840) Centone di Sonate: Sonata I [7:12]; Sonata VI [4:01]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) Rondo a capriccio Op. 129 (arr: David Härenstam) [6:44]
Johann Helmich ROMAN (1694 – 1758) Sonata in E minor (Continuo part arranged by Harald Söderberg. Edited by Konrad Ragossnig) [11:05]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992) Histoire du Tango (1986) [18:26]
Eberhard EYSER (b. 1932) Racconti [21:46]
Nils-Erik Sparf (violin and Baroque violin - Roman), David Härenstam (guitar), Bengt Forsberg (piano) (Eyser)
rec. Studio 3, Swedish Radio, 26-27 July, 29 Oct 2004
NOSAG RECORDS CD 107 [69:25]
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Two eminent Swedish musicians, working together as a duo since 2001, went into the studio to record some of their joint repertoire. The result is this disc, and the scope of the enterprise is catholic to say the least, spanning from early 17th century to yesteryear.

"Racconti" is Italian and means "stories". It is also the title of the last and longest piece on this disc. Eyser works within the twelve-tone technique, but a technique of his own "that has nothing in common with the so-called Second Vienna School" as he writes. He continues: "In Racconti, the stories are about several tone rows that I have created during the course of my professional life as a composer, along with their different methods of treatment. One of the first tone rows that I composed appears here, along with some from the different phases of my ‘middle period’ and some from later on. But in Racconti, one can also find some concrete ‘events: motives and paraphrases from my chamber operas."

"Racconti", which is divided in three parts, was written for The Nils-Erik Sparf and David Härenstam Duo and their special guest Bengt Forsberg. It is a multifarious work, shifting in mood from high-strung drama to murmuring mystery. The juxtaposition of piano and guitar creates interesting combinations of sound. Eyser often works with repeated fragments, a kind of minimalism, maybe. The whole work opens with the signature motive from the opera Dorian Gray and the finale is brought to an end with variations on the same theme. It is a fascinating composition that needs to be heard more than once before all the building stones fit together, although Eyser’s analysis of the work makes it easier to appreciate the music.

Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango also tells stories from different eras: Bordel 1900, Café 1930, Nightclub 1960 and finally Concert d’aujourd’hui (i.e. concert today). It was written in 1986 and has quickly entered the standard repertoire for flute and guitar, but it becomes even more fiery when played on the violin and Nils-Erik Sparf’s playing is anything but inhibited. Having heard him on many occasions in a wide range of music, I knew his capacity but rarely have I heard him play with such glow. One could almost think he has Finnish blood in his veins, for in Finland they play tango better than anywhere in the world, with the possible exception of Argentina. The rapport between Sparf and Härenstam is also that of two twin-souls’. This is now my preferred version of Histoire du Tango.

A story is also told in Beethoven’s Rondo a capriccio Op. 129 entitled "The rage about the lost six-pence". Originally a piano piece it often appears as a humorous and swinging encore at piano recitals. Arranged by David Härenstam for violin and guitar it has retained these qualities but a little toned down as compared to when played on a concert grand.

Johann Helmich Roman has been given the sobriquet "The Father of Swedish Music". While this may not be the whole truth, he is still the earliest important Swedish composer. He studied for some time in London, presumably with Handel, although there is no evidence to bear this out. He left behind much valuable music, of which the Drottningholm Music is probably the most well-known. His sinfonias and sonatas are also on the highest level and it is good to have his E minor sonata here. The continuo part has been arranged for the present combination but it might well have been performed like this even in Roman’s own time. For the sonata Sparf, who is the leader of the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble, changes to baroque violin. This is an instrument he handles to perfection. He has a fuller, rounder tone than many period instrument players and plays with a certain degree of vibrato, which may rule him out in some purist circles. Others should definitely lend an ear to this full-blooded performance, characterised by speedy fast movements and tasteful embellishments. Readers should also be reminded that his recording of Vivaldi’s The four seasons on BIS, still ranks among the best versions ever.

Paganini’s Centone di Sonate were composed for violin and guitar. Paganini was himself an accomplished guitarist although the guitar part here was written to suit less advanced players. This is of course virtuoso music but it also needs a player with the fullness of tone to make the melodies sing – and Paganini had more than one sweet tooth. It would be easy to write them off as sentimental, but there is a certain freshness about them and they do caress one’s ear! Sparf combines the fiery temperament of an Italian with his own Nordic coolness – an ideal partnership. Technically he is up to all the requirements with excellent double stops and creamy tone. I would by the way like to urge readers to listen to the second movement of Sonata I, Rondoncino, which seems an unusually inspired piece of music. The complete sonatas have been recorded by violinist Moshe Hammer and guitarist Norbert Kraft for Naxos, discs that also can be wholeheartedly recommended.

With a scope as wide as this, the present disc might be something of a mixed blessing: listeners on the look-out for Roman may not be interested in Piazzolla; those with an interest in Paganini may fight shy of Eyser, and it has to be admitted that Eyser can be a hard nut to crack. However the disc goes a long way to prove that really good musicians are not hampered by boundaries between, tonal and atonal, new and old, high and low. The only boundaries are between good and bad. This disc is good. It will have a honoured place in my collection and I will certainly return to Eyser some day.

Göran Forsling



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