I spite of the fact that the dates of the two composers on this disc are similar, Sterling CDs could not have offered us two more diverse symphonies than those by Adolf Fredrik Lindblad and Per August Ölander.
Lets briefly glance at the life, times and works of our two composers.
Adolf Fredrik Lindblad was born in 1801. He was the adopted son of a Swedish merchant who tried to enthuse the young boy with the prospect of succeeding him in the business. But like many other young men, Adolf showed a great interest in music; he learnt the piano, the flute and began to compose. During a trip to Hamburg he made two discoveries, the music of Beethoven and his future wife. After a period of study at Uppsala he resumed his exploration of Germany. It was at this time he became good friends with Felix Mendelssohn.
During his lifetime he became known as the 'Swedish Schubert' - and this is probably a fair comparison. By far the most prolific part of his catalogue is the 215 published songs, many to the composer's own texts. The style of the songs was quite mixed - some being classic 'drawing room' ballads, but some were darker hued and had innovative harmonic devices. There was even a press debate on the suitability of some of his songs. The great German musician Ludwig Spohr supported him at the time. However the criticism took its toll and Lindblad retreated into a kind of self-imposed reclusion.
During his time as a teacher he taught the renowned Jenny Lind. She rewarded the composer by presenting his songs throughout Europe.
Lindblad's works include an opera, 'Frondorerna', in which his protégé made her debut.
Apart from the above-mentioned songs there is a small quantity of chamber works and vocal duets and trios. Those who have heard them say that his String Quartets are 'worthy of our attention.'
However it is the very small amount of orchestra music with which we are concerned on this CD.
In 1832 Lindblad's 1st Symphony had been performed. It was received with some critical acclaim. Robert Schumann is said to have produced a favourable review. It apparently showed an exceptional understanding of orchestration. But it is the 2nd Symphony in D major that we have recorded here.
This work received its first performance on 6th May 1855. It was played by the Royal Opera Orchestra with Jacopo Foroni (1825-1858) conducting. (I had the pleasure of reviewing an excellent overture by this conductor/composer which Sterling have released on an attractive recording of Swedish Overtures - Sterling CDS-1009-2) Lindblad's Second Symphony received a number of subsequent performances in the following few years.
There are a number of fairly obvious influences on this work. Perhaps it is almost inevitable that his hero Beethoven would have some stylistic input. And also it seems reasonable that his good friend Felix Bartholdy would have some bearing on the work. And then again it was composed in the same milieu as the great symphonic works of Franz Berwald (massively underrated composer and symphonist). But for all this seeming influence we have here a very fine work - if not a masterpiece. However it is my contention that every work we hear does not have to be a masterpiece. Not even the great masters were able to produce consistently inspired works. Even Beethoven wrote some third rate music during his lifetime.
This is a tightly constructed work that is very much a product of its time. It is attractive to listen to; there is a great sense of unity - not only in each movement, but also throughout the entire work. For these reasons it is a satisfying work to listen to. Perhaps it has classical balance whilst being a romantic symphony?
Per August Ölander was born in Sweden in 1824.
He was a largely self-taught composer and was not a professional musician.
In fact he combined the role of music critic and violinist with that
of a civil servant as a custom's officer. He caused quite a stir in
1876 with his opera 'Blenda.' The newly crowned King of
Sweden, Oskar II was a great patron of the arts. To this end he had
organised a competition for an opera on a Nordic subject. The prize
was 5000 Crowns. We do not know the quality or quantity of the other
entrants, save that Ölander won the prize by acclamation;
the jury were unanimous. Strangely however, the libretto was very poor
- it lacked originality and sense of plot. However it was rescued by
the brilliant music provided by the composer and his facility at writing
good melody and effective harmony. His skill in writing for voices has
been likened to that of Bellini.
The sleeve-notes suggest that there is ample research to be carried out into this little-known composer. Furthermore it suggests that Ölander was involved in much scheming and plotting over the performances of his operas.
Ölander does not have a huge catalogue to his name. The
opera mentioned and an operetta, Master Placide. There is a Missa
Solemnis, a couple of psalm settings
and some chamber music. There may of course be much other music waiting
to be discovered. Ölander died on 3rd August
1886 aged 62.
The composer's only symphony was composed around 1868. The sleeve-notes explain the mystery surrounding the exact circumstances of this piece. Suffice to say that it was performed at August Meissner's concert at Berns on 3rd November 1872. However contemporary sources suggest that the work had been performed before this date.
There is no doubt that this is a 'retro' work. To a composer who felt that 'Lohengrin' was an ephemeral piece, it is hardly surprising that he harked back to the classical masters. A contemporary critic wrote, 'It is remarkable that the composer seems completely untouched by everything that has happened in music since Haydn.' And as we all know, Haydn died in 1809! However it is perhaps an unfair criticism of Ölander; we can now hear other forces at work in his music, including perhaps those of Mendelssohn and Gade. However the fact does remain that this piece is perhaps the finest symphony Haydn never wrote. Especially touching is the gorgeous slow movement, which would surely stand on its own in a compilation of 'The Only Slow Movements You Will Ever Need.' The Scherzo is particularly fun and somewhat more forward looking, but again it is well within the bounds of classical form and structure.
No one must be put off by the fact that this is a backward looking work. Let no one say that such music in the same years as Meistersinger or the Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor is a dereliction of art. The fact remains that this is a well-crafted work, with fine tunes and superb orchestration. It is a work any composer could be proud of. I love it.
I cannot fault the quality of this CD. The sound is great,
as is the commitment and enthusiasm of the orchestras. They play beautifully.
Perhaps the highlight is the slow movement of the Ölander symphony.
Once again Sterling have produced fine programme notes. They are truly
helpful to all those who wish to know more than just the dates of the
This is an excellent CD. It presents two diverse works from two composers who are largely unknown outside of their homeland. Both of these symphonies can be described as effective and interesting examples of that form. I am sure than no one would claim they were ground breaking or innovative - certainly exactly the opposite is the case! However it is not necessary to always be moving the musical enterprise forward for music to be enjoyable. These two works deserve to be better known; they are well written, well scored and at times in both of them we glimpse a considerable inspiration breaking through.
For all those listeners, who like me, have a soft spot for the relatively unknown, this is a good buy. Not only does it give an insight into the state of Romantic music in Sweden during the mid nineteenth century, it allows us to hear two works that reveal their composer's to have been craftsmen of the highest order.
I only wish that Sterling Records would come and record some
of our 'lost' British Symphonies. However failing this I can only hope
that they keep producing these hidden treasures from Sweden. They are
providing a fine service to both musical scholarship and to the wider
education of the musical public.