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HILDING ROSENBERG (1892-1985) The Piano Concertos Piano Concerto No. 1 (1930) [24.58]Piano Concerto No. 2 (1950) [35.56]   Mats Widlund (piano) Swedish Radio SO/Petter Sundkvist   rec Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, 12-15 Sept 1997 No. 1; 19-21 Aug 1997 (No. 2) DAPHNE DR 1006 [61.20]

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Daphne are a small label whose catalogue holds some considerable and unique treasures. Their selection of repertoire is unerring and has resulted in three discs of piano music by Swedish composer, Hilding Rosenberg. The present disc of the two piano concertos is joined by two discs of Rosenberg's solo piano music. The pianist providing the unifying approach is the fiercely virtuosic Mats Widlund (familiar from the Chandos CD of the Stenhammar piano concerto No. 1 - a very different work from the Rosenbergs) as adept at the motoric cross-rhythms of the first concerto as he is at the coolly impressionistic aspects of the solo piano music.

The two-movement first concerto was written for Sven Brandel and given to him (probably for appraisal). The work seems never to have been performed until 1992 shortly after it was discovered amongst Brandel's papers. The first movement is rhythmically active - torrentially so! There is, for me more than a touch of the convulsive martellato of Shostakovich's Piano Concertos 1 and 2 and the Khachaturyan Concerto-Rhapsody in this steam-hammer blizzard. There is some relief in the middle of the movement and here and there a reassuring touch of the Scandinavian romantic school. The 15 minute adagio espressivo combines calming honeyed string textures and some patent romanticism (at times with a slightly vinegary skew) with strolling clangorous piano chords marching up and down the scale. If you think of Alwyn with a touch of midnight sun and a twist of Bergian harmony you have the picture. Interesting to note William Alwyn's first piano concerto, Ireland's concerto being exactly contemporaneous while Bax's Winter Legends and John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych date from 1929. There is no third movement - it seems that none was written so, rather like Schubert's Eighth, the work ends 'unfinished'.

The second concerto (for years thought of as the only Rosenberg piano concerto) is in three movements - the usual fast-slow-fast. The style is somewhat Bartókian. The 'fast' first movement finds plentiful time to dream (2.10) amid the corn-stooks - a sort of 'Nights in the Fields of Sweden'. This mood is blown away by a storm-blown gale of strings before we return to the delectable fields. Ends in a lissom fast-beating anthem recalling Hindemith's more emotionally engaged string writing. The opalescent piano writing made me think of Bax's Morning Song: Maytime in Sussex.

The second movement is at once both quieter and tougher of comprehension though again it is crowned by the disruption of one of those torrential passages for orchestra and soloist. This is more Bartókian and also has quite a dash of what I recognise as Rawsthorne whose own two piano concertos 1942 and 1951 (if we ignore the two piano concerto) would make an interesting contrasting study. There is also a hint of Frank Bridge's Phantasm about the music.

The third movement, Allegro Giusto, is catchy, with romantic elements synthesised into the faintly off-key harmony: Sibelius with a hint of Prokofiev in the Russian composer's least accommodating language.

It was good, at long last, to make acquaintance with this concerto in a good recording. The performance is every bit as atmospheric as the radio tape by which I came to know this piece. The tape features Käbi Laretai (who premiered the piece) and the Swedish RSO conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.

Speaking of Laretai and Swedish piano concertos, you might like to explore the single movement piano concerto (Concerto Ricercante, 1959) of fellow Swede, Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966). Laretai recorded this on a Swedish Philips LP (839.277) with the Stockholm PO conducted by Sixten Ehrling. This is several degrees more gristly and dissonant than the Rosenberg works but quite rewarding and very atmospheric especially in the broken mirror 'La Valse' of the central section. Come on BIS and Paavo Järvi - let's have this on a CD with the same composer's Sinfonia Del Mare or perhaps Daphne will beat them to it?

Excellent notes (English and Swedish). Two intriguing concertos - rewarding particularly for those who like the piano concertos of Bartók, Rawsthorne, David Diamond or Schuman - all served with Swedish relish.

These concertos are not for those who seek out Rachmaninov style works: for that you need to delve into the British Rachmaninov scion, Reginald Sacheverell Coke (1912-1975, six piano concertos, 1920s, 1933, 1938, 1940, 1947, 1951), Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952, at least three concertos - perhaps four if you believe some sources) and Ivan Dzerzhinsky (1909-1978, now when is some going to record the Dzerzhinsky three piano concertos 1932, 1934 and 1945?). Apart from Bhagwan Thadani's disc of the second and third Bortkiewicz concertos these works remain obstinately un-recorded.

A most successful effort all round and testament to the firmness of resolve of Daphne's MD, Björn Uddén, as well as to Widlund's dedication and the skilled sympathy of orchestra, conductor and engineers.


Rob Barnett

HILDING ROSENBERG (1892-1985) The Piano Works Vol. 1 Plastiska Scener (1921) Piano Sonata No. 1 (1923) 11 Sma Föredragststudier (1925) Piano Sonata No. 3 (1926) Improvisationer (1939)  Mats Widlund (piano)   rec Concert Hall, Örebro, 14-16 May 1995 DAPHNE DR 1001 [65.06]

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During the 1920s Rosenberg (a man in his immortal twenties) was very productive of piano works. They tumbled out in profusion and then were forgotten. He returned to piano music in the very late 1930s and 1940s but to nowhere near the same extent.

The Plastiska Scener - an eight piece sequence - is deeply and instantly attractive: pastoral lullabies, glittering scales (the Tempo Giusto arpeggios uncannily predictive of the third movement of Bax's Winter Legends), Brahmsian concision slightly curdled, macabre brevity (the allegretto is 19 seconds long), a Presto like a truncated concert study by Frank Bridge and an unresolved andantino.

The First Sonata's somnambulistic doldrums in the first three movements and the insect scuttling of the Allegro comodo contrast with the Prokofiev-Bach confection of the Third Sonata's first movement, the thickened syllables of its Debussian lento, the sunnily smiling Scherzo and the ringing Poulencian brightness of the Allegro energico. The Third Sonata is certainly a more accessible work although its impact is lessened by a brief recording distortion in track 26 (Scherzo) where for a few instants the sound crumbles and drops out completely.

Wind forward to 1939 and the eight Improvisations. These depart from the Schoenbergian antics of the first sonata. If anything they are Debussian (some Prokofiev in these as well) and are played by Widlund with the greatest sensitivity. Listen to his control of dynamics in the Moderato (track 33) and woodpecker brightness of Allegro Vivace (34). The opening and closing Allegro Energico has the awe and grandeur of Mussorgsky's Kiev Gate.

The eleven studies (1925) trace a charming and unsentimental line from Grieg. Sample tracks 22 and 23; the latter might almost trace a line from one of Macdowell's woodland flowers or Peterson-Berger's delectable Frösoblosomster (wonderfully recorded on BIS by Noriko Ogawa).

Special thanks go to the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs for their singular support for this project carried over two solo piano volumes (1001 and 1003) and into the piano concerto disc (1006).


Rob Barnett

HILDING ROSENBERG (1892-1985) The Piano Works Vol. 2 Suite (1924) Piano Sonata No. 2 (1925) Piano Sonata No. 4 (1927) Tema con Variazioni (1941) Sonatina (1949)   Mats Widlund (piano)   rec Concert Hall, Örebro, 13-16 April 1996 DAPHNE DR 1003 [76.32]

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In relation to my discovery of Rosenberg I owe a debt, deep and wide, to my favourite writer on Scandinavian music, Robert Layton. It was through Mr Layton's writings in 'Golden Age' Gramophone rather than its current thought-byte style Brummagem tin - no disrespect to my native Birmingham) that I sought out Rosenberg's music in the 1970s and 1980s. We can enjoy reading classic Layton (and I hope, both Martin Anderson and the much-missed Richard D.C. Noble - the latter once such a pillar of Records and Recordings) in the newly launched International Record Review.

One day I hope to have the excuse to review the Rosenberg Symphonies - especially the middle period ones: 3 (1939, The Four Ages of Man, after Romain Rolland), No. 4 Johannes Uppenbarelse (1940, his Revelation of St John - Apocalypse symphony - written four years after Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals in the year of the German occupation of Norway and Denmark) and No. 5 Hortulanus (1944).

Of the Fourth Symphony I treasure both the Caprice CD (CAP21429) with Gothenburg forces conducted by Sixten Ehrling with Håkon Hagegård as well as a radio tape (1979 BBC broadcast) of a performance conducted by Herbert Blomstedt (has he ever been permitted to do No. 4 - or any Rosenberg - in San Francisco I wonder?) with Swedish Radio forces and again with Hagegård as the baritone soloist.

There is some extremely attractive music on this disc. While the two sonatas can be a challenge the other works here are immediately amicable without being anodyne.

The Gallic impressionism Suite: Delicately tuneful miniature chiming impressionism of Arabesk and Pastoral, Pierrot wanderings of Impromptu. Nothing Schoenbergian here. Prize listening for anyone partial to Ravel or Goossens

The polished Satie-like scattiness and repose of the second sonata is not to be preferred to the fourth sonata. The latter, in the first movement, rests moored at ease on an unthreateningly rocking ocean - even slightly Brahmsian. This is succeeded by an earnest perpetuum mobile and a classic andantino ruffled by breezes predictive of Shostakovich - or at least so they sound. 1927 is far too early for any direct influence.

On into the 1940s. The Theme and Variations entrancingly threads delicate silken lines into a glistening impressionistic curtain soon to be developed in angry turbulence, impatience and drizzled peace. Shostakovich is certainly a glassy influence in the 1949 Sonatina (its Allegretto rather like parts of Niels-Viggo Bentzon's Det Tempererede Klaver on ClassicO CLASS CD 210-225).

The playing time is very generous. Notes are good though silent on Sonata No. 4.

If you are pressed to choose between volumes 1 and 2 go for No. 1 - a fine production all-round.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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