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Nordic Showcase
Carl NIELSEN (1865–1931)
Suite for string orchestra, Op. 1 (1888) [13:50]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840–1911)
Romance for violin and orchestra, Op. 26 (1881) [7:53]
Anders WESSTRÖM (1720–1781)
Armida, overture [7:50]
Jón LEIFS (1899–1968)
Variazioni Pastorali, Op. 8 (1930) [10:44]
Bo LINDE (1933–1967)
Concerto piccolo, Op. 35 (1967) [10:50]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Impromptu for strings (1893, arr. 1894) [8:04]
Richard Tognetti (violin) (Svendsen)
Nordic Chamber Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. January 2006, Tonhallen, Sundsvall, Sweden
BIS-CD-1538 [60:46]

What is on display in this Nordic Showcase is not the usual mix of Greatest Hits. Visitors will of course react with a smile of recognition in the case of the most prominently exposed items: Carl Nielsen’s Suite for string orchestra, must be amongst his most beloved compositions. It is fresh, melodic but with some odd twists that make it stand out from the mainstream string repertoire. Then there’s Johan Svendsen’s Romance for violin and orchestra, which at least in my youth was one of those recurring favourites in the radio charts: sweet, hummable. Oh yes, I know it, it is Bruch, isn’t it? Bruch and Svendsen had, in the mind of most listeners, written only one piece each.

Those who feel enticed by these two titles will, I am sure, react positively. The Intermezzo of the Nielsen Suite is played with elegance and charm and there is glowing intensity in the third movement. Australian Richard Tognetti doesn’t sentimentalize the Svendsen Romance but his violin also glows with true passion. Good orchestra, too. What orchestra is it? Nordic Chamber Orchestra – must be some ad hoc ensemble from some inter-Nordic workshop – but the unanimity of phrasing and the homogenous sound tell another tale: these musicians must have been playing together for some time. In fact they have. I don’t know how many nationalities are represented in the orchestra but it was formed in 1990 as Sundsvall’s Chamber Orchestra. It has specialised very much in new music. Sundsvall is a town situated almost in the middle of Sweden, but since it is almost 400 kilometres north of Stockholm most people in the southern part of this elongated country believe it’s far up north. 1998 – 2005 Christopher Warren-Green was principal conductor, now it is Christian Lindberg, and don’t we recognize his name? Of course, the world-famous trombonist, but is he also a conductor? Not for so long; he made his debut in 2000 and has appeared with many leading orchestras. Judging from this disc, which I believe is his first recording as a conductor, he might well rise to the stars even in this profession.

Returning now to the programme, those who found Nielsen and Svendsen to their liking, will possibly wonder who Anders Wesström was. Born in 1720 he was slightly older than Haydn and had an academic career in Uppsala before he devoted himself to music. He studied in German and Italy, one of his teachers was the violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Back in Sweden he became a member of the Royal Court Orchestra and composed several operas, admired by his contemporaries. The overture to Armida, a three-part composition in the normal fast-slow-fast mode, reveals a sure formal sense and expert scoring with inventive use of wind instruments. The opening Allegro is a real swinger and the concluding Allegro assai is fresh and inviting.

Iceland’s most famous composer, Jón Leifs, has been well served by some record companies lately, especially by BIS. He can be quirky sometimes and there is often a dark basic tone in most of his works. These Variazioni Pastorali carry the opus number 8 and is consequently a fairly early piece, finished in 1930 but not premiered until 1935. Interestingly he uses a theme from Beethoven’s op. 8, the Serenade for string trio. It is a melody that sticks – and it sounds surprisingly modern. The theme is first presented straight and then follow ten variations, where he becomes ever more harmonically bold. Number 3 is stormy and Number 5 is solemn but between them there is a jolly Allegro scherzando. Number 7 is powerful, Number 9 is gloomy and then he returns to Beethoven’s theme but now in the Major key. A refreshing work that should be heard often.

Swedish composer Bo Linde, who died at the age of 37, never made much of a name during his lifetime. He was played by the orchestra in his hometown, Gävle, but recordings were non-existent. Today the situation is different. BIS, again, have recorded a number of discs and on Naxos his concertos for violin and cello were released (review) (review) a little more than a year ago. Concerto piccolo for wind quintet and string orchestra sounds like a kind of concerto grosso, but it isn’t. The five wind instruments are treated very individually with the piccolo-flute twittering high above the others, but all the un-named players are splendid. Linde is, as always, entertaining, good-humoured. There are three movements, of which the first is a prelude followed by a scherzo. The finale is also in effect a scherzo, intensely rhythmical in partsw. The central Canto is more serious; one can even discern cries for help.

The disc ends as it began with music for strings by another Nordic giant. Sibelius’s Impromptu is however an arrangement – his own from 1894 – of music he wrote for piano the year before: six impromptus Op. 5. He chose two of these, numbers 5 and 6, and created a slow-lively-slow structure with the number 6 impromptu as the mid-section. The slow music is very inward and exquisitely scored and without knowing the origin one would almost certainly believe that it was conceived from the outset for strings.

Well, well, someone seems to mutter, maybe a visit to that showcase could be a good idea. I do have an inclination for rarities, so … why not? Tonhallen, the concert hall in Sundsvall, is well-known for its good acoustics. Swedes in general know it from hundreds of sing-along programmes on TV and a BIS recording is always a BIS recording – so why hesitate?

Göran Forsling




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