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Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
The Battle of Leipzig - musical painting (1828) [18.46]
Concerto for two violins and orchestra (1817) [12.52]
Theme and Variations for violin and orchestra (1816) [13.18]
The Queen of Golconda (1864) [17.25]
Estrella de Soria (1841, 1848) [11.24]
Malmö SO/Niklas Willén
rec. Rosenbergsalen, Malmö musikhögskola, Malmö, Sweden, 11-14 June 2002. DDD
STERLING CDS-1051-2 [75.17]


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Bo Hyttner of Sterling is not one for stinting on playing time as you can see and when it comes to pushing the repertoire envelope you will find him at the extremes. Berwald's symphonies have a precarious claim to prominence (at least on record) but this set ploughs largely virgin territory with no less than 15 of the 17 tracks being world premiere recordings. The two 'familiar' pieces are the Golconda and Estrella overtures although the other extracts (Marcia; Bröllopståg; Baletto; Folk-Dans in the case of Golconda and Polonäs for Estrella) are pretty much unknown.

The Battle of Leipzig has more substance to it than Beethoven's Battle of Vitoria which was played in Stockholm in 1818. With its fanfaring, night march evocations and shako-and-epaulettes charges this will appeal to those who enjoy Rossini and Weber. It is an early piece as are the two works for violin(s) and orchestra. The Concerto is in one movement though here tracked into three attacca-linked segments. The music is sweetly inclined with the linkages being to Bruch for melody and Paganini for brilliance. The Theme and (four) Variations are founded on a gracious Italianate melody and the piece is rounded off with a Beethovenian Poco allegretto ending in contemplation rather than conflagration. The Queen of Golconda music is the latest here. The overture spiritedly wheezes and lollops along though the Malmö strings could have done with more cream, steam and weight. The four incidental pieces are nice, rather like Bizet meets Weber, though hardly compulsive even if the Baletto (tr.8) would have made a fine Beecham lollipop supplanting many a piece by Massenet or Grétry or Chabrier. The Estrella overture has one of those tension-pregnant introductions typical of Weber and then pitches into a distinctly Schumann-like allegro with some tasty work for the French horns. The Polonäs is a nice add-on which in its wind-writing (a strength in the Berwald symphonies) points towards Dvořák.

Lennart Hedwall's notes are a model both for what they contain and for what they exclude. Factual material is full; technical description is absent. Altogether a fine package for the Berwald fan with enthusiasm and dedication aplenty from the Malmö musicians and Willén.

Rob Barnett


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