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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
The Orchestral Music

Symphony No. 1 in F major (1902-3) [52.56]
Symphony No. 2 in G minor (1901-1902) [42.37]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor (original version) (1893) [45.50]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor (1904-1907) [28.43]
Serenade (including Reverenza movement) (1907) [43.30]
Lodolezzi Sings suite (1919) [17.50]
Midwinter (1907) [12.25]
Florez och Blanzeflor - ballad for baritone and orchestra (1891) [8.19]
Two Sentimental Romances for violin and orchestra (1910) [12.42]
Excelsior! concert overture (1897) [12.10]
Snöfrid (1897) [21.29]
Peter Mattei (bar) (Florez)
Ulf Wallin (violin) (Romances)
Love Derwinger (piano) (No. 1)
Cristina Ortiz (piano) (No. 2)
Ulrika Åhlén (sop), Gunvor Nilsson (mz), Gösta Zackrisson (ten), Per Enoksson (violin) Gothenburg Concert Hall Choir/Ove Gotting (Snöfrid)
Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
Malmö SO/Paavo Järvi ()
rec Gothenburg Concert Hall, live 24 Sept 1982 (Sym 1), live, 16 Sept 1983 (Sym 2), studio: 19-20 May 1989 (Piano Concerto 2), 1 Sept 1983 (Excelsior!), 26 August 1985 (Serenade); 11/17 June 1992, Malmö Concert Hall (Florez, Romances, Piano Concerto 1), DDD/AAD
BIS-CD-714/716 [4CDs: 76.52+78.12+75.34+77.48]

This set offers more than convenience and economy. These performances are never less than good. In particular the readings of the Second Symphony, piano concertos, the Serenade and Lodolezzi Sings are supple, galvanic, generous hearted and fiery.

Both symphonies were taken down from live performances complete with the odd moment of 'audience participation' and with applause - in the right place. Of the two the Second Symphony has had more limelight and recordings than the first. Strauss is often cited as an influence but the work more often reminds me of a folksy Brahms or Dvořk. I doubt that anyone has ever matched Jrvi's boiling intensity in the first movement. Dvořk's Eighth Symphony is an unmistakable presence in the second movement. There are moments in this virile and rhythmic symphony where the work seemed to be a sort of nineteenth century doppelgänger of the Moeran Symphony. If you must have a studio recording then by all means go for Järvi in his DG version or the reputedly less well recorded Naxos with the RSNO conducted by Petter Sundkvist (Naxos 8.553888). The strongest contender all round is the classic ADD recording of the Stockholm PO conducted by the once ubiquitous Stig Westerberg on Caprice CAP 21151.

The First Symphony spans almost 53 minutes and touches on Schumann and, just occasionally (as in the finale), Berlioz. Although Stenhammar claimed that it was influenced by Bruckner it is rather too relaxed for that parallel to be entirely convincing though the rustic chivalry of Bruckner 4 and 6 is picked up in the finale. The work is charmingly discursive lacking Brucknerian tension and storminess.

The heart-leaping Excelsior! overture rather resembles Elgar's Froissart and blazes and sings brightly in this version with a much greater pastoral current than the tendency to write this work down as a Straussian essay might lead you to expect. It must surely have sounded magnificent in the hands of its dedicatees, Nikisch and the Berlin Phil, who played it in Copenhagen in 1897.

Snöfrid is a work for solo soprano, mezzo and tenor with solo violin and chorus. It hymns the virtues of duty in the face of temptation. There is an intimacy about the writing for chorus which softens the Wagnerian jaw-set. The tenor has a slight 'bray' but otherwise this is agreeable music-making in the stream of the Scandinavian serenade. It is likely to appeal to lovers of Pfitzner's Deutsches Seele and the Schumann pictorial cantatas. Peter Mattei handles the songful Florez and Blanzeflor (a chivalric tale) with suave tone. Midvinter proceeds along the same tracks as Alfvén's Swedish Rhapsodies while the low key Sentimental Romances are handled with reticent and undemonstrative aplomb by Ulf Wallin who will be known to some of us as the violinist in CPO's recording of the complete Reger Violin Sonatas. These Romances would couple well with the willowy and undramatic pastels of Sibelius's own Two Serenades.

The two piano concertos occupy disc 3 and are the only example in the catalogue of this coupling. It would not surprise me, given their dates and accents, if they turn up in Hyperion's romantic piano concertos series, probably with the BBCSSO conducted by Osmo Vänskä with Milne, Hough, Coombs or Hamelin at the piano. The epic First Piano Concerto stands stylistically between the Grieg Piano Concerto and Brahms Second (listen to the start of the third movement with its rustic nationalist lilt) imposing similar demands on soloist and orchestra. This is a strong and sturdy work with very fine inspirational writing in line with the Stanford Second Concerto and the Bortkiewicz concertos (we desperately need recordings of the Second and Third Bortkiewicz let alone the Cello Concerto and Violin Concerto). The Second Concerto is also Brahmsian but blended with early Rachmaninov. Though still an obviously romantic effusion it sounds more 'modern' with the sort of art nouveau decorative caprice that is to be found in the salon charmers of Alfred Hill, Frank Hutchens, Greville Cooke and Harry Farjeon. It too is in four movements. Ortiz (a splendid and under-recognised pianist whose Strauss Burleske I heard with great pleasure in Liverpool a couple of years ago) and Derwinger are able advocates. Perhaps Ortiz makes more of her chances than Derwinger though both are very good indeed. If you were keen on the First Concerto you might want to track down the Chandos CD (CHAN 9074) which has Mats Widlund as pianist. It has been highly praised. However I doubt that you will feel the need to look further if you opt for this BIS box.

The Serenade for Orchestra is presented complete with the Reverenza movement which Stenhammar elided when he decided that the whole work was too long. You can always programme it out if you can remember how to do that! The Serenade is a gentle work of singing Nordic grace drawing on the pastels and moonlit vistas of Sibelius's Rakastava, the pulse-race of Mendelssohn's Italian and Midsummer Night's Dream (Golovanov would have made hay with the Overtura), the cool and warmth of Delius as in Summer Night on the River, the lighter genre pieces of Elgar including the Serenade for Strings, Mina and the various Saluts and the less probing sections of Dvorak's Serenade for Strings. One can hear where Wirén took his launch point for his own Serenade for Strings. This is a good performance, full of healthy vigour and yet sensitive too. Fascinatingly the Serenade has been recorded by both Kubelik (a classic version made in 1964 and once issued on the DG Heliodor label; now on Swedish Society Discofil SCD1115) and Andrew Davis (a rarish Finlandia 3984-25327-2 but rosetted by the Penguin Guide - inappositely coupled with the Brahms Second Serenade). The outstandingly delightful Lodolezzi Sings is cut from the same material. The long Karneval movement has a silvery long-limbed melody handled with restraint and delicacy and pointed up by harp and mandolin solos. It is clearly at least part inspired by Sibelius's theatre music (tr 7 6.09). The Interlude from Stenhammar's Sången (a 45 minute cantata recorded complete on Caprice) is affecting in the gentle manner of the Elgar miniatures with variety added by some sombre dignified Wagnerian brass writing (tr. 8 3.03).

The sound overall is transparent and refined with plenty of impact. Even the analogue tape of the First Symphony sounds very well indeed and audience participation in the two live recordings is neither extensive nor distracting.

Both the Serenade and Midvinter were written in Italy. To this extent Stenhammar shared the Mediterranean love affair with Peterson-Berger (Second Symphony), Nielsen (Helios) and Sibelius (Nightride and Sunrise and Second Symphony).

The notes, drawn down in full, from the individual CDs from which these four discs were compiled, are admirably thorough as is BIS's wont. The authors are Per Skans, Lennart Dehn and, for the First Piano Concerto, Alan B Ho. Each disc is packed close to capacity - well over 75 minutes in each case. Rather like its catalogue 'partner', the Chung/Järvi Nielsen Symphonies/Concertos (BIS-CD-614/616), the set is listed at four discs for the price of three. I suspect that you will be able to better even that if you shop around.

When you compare the music making of Nielsen and Stenhammar across the two BIS sets you realise how much of a revolutionary Nielsen was. Look at Nielsen's dates (1865-1931) and compare them with those of Stenhammar (1871-1927). Stenhammar was abashed by the imperious example of Sibelius. He stands a step down in bright freshness of invention from both Sibelius and Nielsen. Here was a composer who, though born later and died earlier than Nielsen, joyed in the whooping pleasures of the accustomed romantic idiom and inflamed that idiom with folk voices of his native land. In Denmark Børresen and Ludolf Nielsen may be seen tracking a similar course. The interaction between romance and pastoralism was enough for Stenhammar, or had to be, and it remains a very pleasing and treasurable presence. This set is a sensational bargain. Try it if you long to hear a nineteenth century romantic ploughing a delightfully Scandinavian furrow.

Rob Barnett


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