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The Sound of Scandinavia
rec. 1960-2002. ADD/DDD
Full track-listings at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 2681612 [6 CDs: 469:20]
Experience Classicsonline

This is in some respects a brave selection if it’s aimed at someone new to Scandinavian classical music. It’s true there are no symphonies but otherwise the choices encompass both the mainstream obvious and the neglected subtle - orchestral, chamber, song and solo piano.
 
In the case of Sibelius we have Finlandia, The Swan and Karelia but we are challenged by Luonnotar and two of his songs. Nielsen is there but no sign of Helios or Sagadrøm; instead there is the Little Suite, some songs and a lot of the solo piano music. The choice of Grieg is pretty much as expected – generous and all the key works are represented. Surprising - but pleasing all the same - that of all the works Berwald’s little Piano Concerto should have been chosen. Larsson’s Pastoral Suite and Lyric Fantasy are very welcome as are songs by Rangström and Peterson-Berger. Good also to see that the lighter confections by Lumbye appear alongside pops by Wirén, Sinding, Järnefelt, Svendsen and Alfvén. Stenhammar’s wonderful Serenade is a substantial offering to compare with his Ballad – Florez och Blanzeflor. With the Larsson, Stenhammar and Wirén it’s a shame that space could not have been found to represent Erland von Koch (1910-2009) who died recently.
 
Overall this is a pretty intrepid sampling across EMI's Scandinavian music treasury. It's mostly 20th century stuff and mostly orchestral. The recordings are from between 1960 and 2002 - many from the 1970s. It's a box for the neophyte adventurer and the explorer new to Scandinavia and its musical heritage. At this price it encourages taking a speculative flier and offers a great deal of reward in potential.
 
Gade's Echoes of Ossian gets a zestful reading - a piece clearly fashioned around the Mendelssohn overtures – especially The Hebrides. The compact Berwald Piano Concerto is from a complete 4 LP set of the Berwald symphonies which held sway in the catalogue for many years and can still be had in EMI's Triple series. The Concerto is gently and romantically gracious with none of the distressing tawdry one occasionally gets from Liszt. The finale looks forward to Saint-Saëns. Järnefelt's jolly and jaunty Praeludium is good to have and is taken from tapes made for a mixed Scandinavian LP when Berglund and his Bournemouth band were at the apex of their fame.
 
After all that orchestral stimulation time for some fifteen songs variously by Nielsen and Grieg with Barbara Hendricks and by Rangström and Sibelius by Solveig Kringelborn. Hendricks has been criticised for lack of feeling. Here however she avoids the generalisation that has been her critical ‘downfall’. They’re really nicely done with great attention to word-meaning and enunciation. We get six of Rangstrom's most masterful songs as well as two of Sibelius's most famous.
 
The first disc ends with Stenhammar's Tchaikovskian Florez och Blanzeflor. The gentle and distant analogue hiss is common to all the orchestral tracks on this disc.
 
Svendsen's Carnaval in Paris has rarely sounded as rumbustiously good as this. It doffs its hat to Rossini and more obviously to Berlioz's Roman Carnival. That recording was made in 1994. The next eight tracks are of dances by Lumbye and they were made in 1960. Despite sounding good and very immediate with lots of impact-enhancing spotlighting they are not free from a more assertive mattress of analogue hiss. Lumbye is a master of the light Straussian manner and can be bright and breezy as we hear in the explosive Champagne Galop complete with deafening xylophone! After such unwavering in-your-face brilliance it is good to return to the more suave tones of Nielsen's Little Suite in a justly award-winning performance directed by the late Iona Brown. The Intermezzo recalls the Sibelius Melisande music - a silvery delicate dance. The last track on CD 2 comes from the same Berglund sessions as the Praeludium on CD 1. The BSO wind principals do Alfven’s Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 great credit and the big-band sound secured at Guildhall Southampton can at last be unleashed without fears of distortion or stylus jump.
 
After two discs where there is a strong orchestral presence CD 3 is entirely piano or duo with piano included. After the dignified and characteristic Nielsen pieces from Andsnes we hear Nielsen's two Fantasy Pieces for a rather key-clicky oboe played by Albrecht Meyer. Ogdon's Rustle of Spring is a commanding classic though its piano is beginning to sound dated and claustrophobic. Stib Ribbing's 1972 recordings of Peterson-Berger's Frösöblomster introduce us to a composer who produces gracious miniatures rather like Grieg whose Lyric Pieces are presented in selection played by Andsnes. The Frösöblomster are pleasing but this composer really shone in his second and third symphonies which Swedish EMI recorded but which are not here.
 
CD 4 combines famous with known but rarely heard. We ended the last CD with Grieg piano solos. We now move to Marriner's version of the Peer Gynt incidental music. It's very clearly done if not specially sensitive or nuanced. I enjoyed the upfront impact of Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter for its lapel-gripping immediacy. The cheeky piccolo and jingle of Arabian Dance has its otherworldliness accentuated by the stirring recording yet softened by the sound of the well sung and muscular Ambrosian Singers. So more OK than superb then. After this it was a delight to hear Lars-Erik Larsson's Pastoral Suite for full orchestra in a recording from1968. It's a fine work in cool mezzotint shades in the hands of Bjorlin and the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. The lights come up with the succinct and joyous Allegro finale. There’s lovely and bubblingly distanced playing from the flutes, oboes and clarinet. More of the same is heard from Wirén in his Serenade for Strings. This is a 1975 recording. Hiss is an issue but not much, simply because the music itself and its interpretation and recording have such lissom vigour. The pizzicato is superbly captured. The skip and slur of the Scherzo and of the famous Marcia are among the very best. This is a work that will have you tapping your feet and smiling.
 
CD 5 launches with the most famous of Scandinavian piano concertos in a celebrity performance by Andsnes. Kitaenko gives the Grieg Piano Concerto a Tchaikovskian accent but it comes up smelling of roses and listen to the split-second torque of Andsnes' playing at the launch of the finale. Glorious. After the famous comes the excellent but neglected in the shape of Stenhammar's large-scale five movement Serenade from EMI Svenska. It’s a lovely piece, nostalgic, rapt, effervescent and entertaining as you might expect from a Serenade. It's a big work and should appeal if you have any feeling for the Sibelius incidental music. It can be compared with a version by Andrew Davis (Warner Apex) and another by Järvi (Bis). I was glad to hear the rest of the EMI Svenska LP contents that accompanied the Larsson Pastoral Suite in the shape of the Lyric Fantasy for small orchestra. The 1968 recording is a mite enclosed but is powerful with horns and woodwind registering with great command. It doesn’t sound like a small orchestra - not at all. This is a big slow-blooming piece suggestive of some sunny Norwegian woodland realm basking in the blessing of sunshine. It's a lovely piece.
 
The final disc in this beguilingly calculated set includes the red-blooded Iona Brown version of the Holberg Suite. It matches the Nielsen Little Suite in its upfront power and vivacity. For the rest of the disc we turn to the obvious and not so obvious by Sibelius. The famous Swan has rarely sung as glowingly as here in a version plucked from the complete 1979 Ormandy Lemminkainen Legends and still to be heard as a complete sequence on EMI Encore. Though recorded with less subtlety than Ormandy the 1965 Mravinsky Swan recorded with the Leningrad Phil at a Moscow concert is superior to this in its taut and almost neurotic intensity. Ormandy remains however a wonderful complement to that. After such famous Sibelius we get one of his finest yet most obscure tone poems, Luonnotar, with a bell-clear Gwyneth Jones. This was one of the pioneering recordings of the piece and dates from the early 1970s. It can be heard alongside its other bedfellows on EMI Gemini. It's a stormy minimalist piece, epic in quintessence yet short in duration. Barbirolli in Karelia and Finlandia hits the mark especially in the dark intensity and anger of Finlandia. Berglund's Tapiola with the Helsinki Phil is rather slack by comparison with say Ashkenazy (Decca) and especially alongside Van Beinum (Eloquence). Barbirolli's EMI Finlandia from 1966 is imposing and angry. It shakes the rafters alongside the best - namely Horst Stein on Decca with the Suisse Romande.
 
There are no texts and translations for the songs and Luonnotar and Florez. We are provided instead with a shortish but very well constructed overview by Daniel Grimley.
 
A joyously miscellaneous Scandinavian collection at bargain price.
 
Rob Barnett
 
Full Tracklist
CD 1 [78.12]
Niels W. GADE Efterklang af Ossian (Echoes of Ossian) – Overture in A minor, Op.1
The Royal Danish Orchestra/Johan Hye-Knudsen
Franz BERWALD Piano Concerto in D
Marian Migdal (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulf Björlin
Armas JÄRNEFELT Praeludium
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
Carl NIELSEN
[6] Æbleblomst
[7] Skal blomsterne da visne
[8] Sænk kun dit hoved, du blomst
[9] Den første lærke
Edvard GRIEG
[10] Våren
[11] Med en vandlije
[12] Jeg elsker dig
Barbara Hendricks (soprano); Roland Pöntinen (piano)
Ture RANGSTRÖM
[13] Den enda stunden
[14] Flickan under nymånen
[15] Bön till natten
[16] Melodi
[17] Villemo
[18] Pan
Jean SIBELIUS
[19] Svarta rosor
[20] Diamanten på marssnön
Solveig Kringelborn (soprano); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR
[21] Ballad – Florez och Blanzeflor, Op.3
Ingvar Wixell (baritone)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stig Westerberg
 
CD 2 [75.19]
Johan SVENDSEN Karneval i Paris (Carnival in Paris), Op.9
Trondheim Symphony Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
Hans Christian LUMBYE
[2] Drømmebilleder – Fantasie
[3] Dronning Louise – Vals
[4] Københavns Jernbanedamp – Galop
[5] Salut for August Bournonville – Galop
[6] Columbine – Polka Mazurka
[7] Amelie Vals
[8] Britta Polka
[9] Champagne Galop
Copenhagen Tivoli Orchestra/Lavard Friisholm
Carl NIELSEN Little Suite for string orchestra, Op.1
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Iona Brown
Hugo ALFVÉN Swedish Rhapsody No.1, Op.19 'Midsummer Vigil'
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
 
CD 3 [76.47]
Carl NIELSEN
[1-6] 6 Humoreske-bagateller, Op.11
No.1 Goddag! Goddag! 0.49
No.2 Snurretoppen 0.45
No.3 En lille langsom vals 1.27
No.4 Sprællemanden 0.47
No.5 Dukkemarch 1.15
No.6 Spilleværket 0.54
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
[7-8] Two Fantasy Pieces, Op.2
I Romanze (Andante con doulo) 3.38
II Humoresque (Allegretto scherzando) 2.25
Albrecht Mayer, Markus Becker
Christian SINDING The Rustle of Spring, Op.32 No.3
John Ogdon (piano)
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER Frösöblomster I
No.1 Rentrée 3.00
No.2 Sommarsång 2.24
No.3 Lawn Tennis 2.20
No.4 Till Rosorna 3.35
No.5 Gratulation 3.27
No.6 Vid Fröso Kyrka 4.22
No.7 I Skymningen 3.26
No.8 Hälsning 3.43
Stig Ribbing (piano)
Carl NIELSEN Chaconne, Op.32 (FS79)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Edvard GRIEG
[19-23] Lyric Pieces, Op.43
No.1 Sommerfugl 1.40
No.2 I Hjemmet 2.32
No.4 Liden Fugl 1.36
No.5 Erotikon 2.53
No.6 Til Foråret 3.06
[24-27] Lyric Pieces, Op.54
No.1 Gjaetergut 4.19
No.2 Gangar 3.24
No.3 Troldtog 3.05
No.4 Notturno 4.17
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
 
CD 4 [76.32]
Edvard GRIEG Peer Gynt – incidental music
Prelude (Act 1) – Wedding Scene 5.11
Wedding March 3.08
Prelude (Act 2) – Abduction & Ingrid's Lament 3.48
In the Hall of the Mountain King 2.40
Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter 1.39
Aase's Death 5.46
Prelude (Act 4) – Morning 4.16
Arabian Dance 4.47
Anitra's Dance 3.24
Solveig's Song 5.45
Prelude (Act 5) – Return of Peer Gynt – Storm Scene 2.24
Solveig's Cradle Song 4.52
Lucia Popp (soprano), Ambrosian Singers
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
Lars-Erik LARSSON Pastoral Suite, Op.19
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulf Björlin
Dag WIRÉN Serenade for Strings, Op.11
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Montgomery
 
CD 5 [76.05]
Edvard GRIEG Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Kitayenko
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR Serenade in F, Op.31
Sveriges Radio Symfoniorchester/Stig Westerberg
Lars-Erik LARSSON Lyric Fantasy for small orchestra
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulf Björlin
 
CD 6 [76.25]
Edvard GRIEG Suite for strings (in olden style from Holberg's time), Op.40
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Iona Brown
Jean SIBELIUS
Four Legends from the Kalevala, Op.22 – No.2 'The Swan of Tuonela'
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Luonnotar, Op.70
Gwyneth Jones (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
Karelia Suite, Op.11
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
Tapiola, Op.112
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
Finlandia, Op.26
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli

 


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