> Nielsen - Grieg - Stenhammer [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Serenade op.31

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis, with Bernt Lysell, violin
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Grieg – Holberg Suite, op.40

Helsinki Strings/Géza Szilvay
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)

Nielsen – Little Suite, op.1

Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Ari Rasilainen
Stenhammar recorded at Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden, February 1998
Grieg recorded Roihuvuori Church, Helsinki, Finland, August 1995
Nielsen recorded Lindemann Hall, Oslo, Norway, February 1995
APEX 0927 43075 [72:19]


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The real attraction on this disc is the remarkable Serenade by Wilhelm Stenhammar. If you don’t yet know his music, I recommend you start here, with this truly beautiful and strongly individual work. There are echoes of many composers – Sibelius in the sudden moments of hushed mystery, Brahms in the rich writing for lower strings and chorale-like melodies, Richard Strauss in the splendidly ripe orchestration replete with horn fanfares - yet Stenhammar has a powerful musical personality all of his own.

The work is essentially a symphony, which the composer worked on from 1907 to its première in 1914 – though even after that he revised it, reducing the number of movements from six to five. Sir Andrew Davis and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic give it a splendid performance which brings out the work’s many beauties, and, vitally, its sense of fantasy. The important solo violin part is beautifully projected by Bernt Lysell.

The first movement is spacious, with a strong open-air feel to it; in fact a magical sense of the outdoors pervades most of the work. The spirit of Dvořák seems to inhabit the lovely Canzonetta, while the playful yet explosive Scherzo certainly brings Sibelius to mind – even some of the harmonies have a distinctly Sibelian colour to them.

Though technically the four movements are separate, there is a psychological and musical link from one to the next. So the restless energy of the scherzo gives way to the thoughtful and emotionally intense Notturno, with its poetic woodwind writing. A quiet horn solo leads us into the ebullient finale, which is as full as the rest of the work of effortless melodic invention. The throw-away ending is a delight.

Grieg’s early essay in Neo-classicism, the Holberg Suite, is given an enjoyable and accomplished performance by the Helsinki Strings under Szilvay, with, to English ears an unmistakable hint of the Sailor’s Hornpipe to spice up the final Rigaudon. Nielsen’s Little Suite, written when he was in his early 20s and still ‘a certain Mr. Nielsen whom nobody knows’ as a newspaper article announcing the concert described him, completes the disc interestingly enough. Though not a remarkable work, it has charm; its most attractive movement being the central Intermezzo, with reminiscences of Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra Strings under Ari Rasilainen give a stylish performance.

Another excellent value disc from Apex, worth having for the wonderful Stenhammar alone.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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