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John FERNSTRÖM (1897-1961)
Symphony No. 6 (1938) [47.50]
Concertino for flute, with small orchestra and women's choir Op. 52 (1941) [10.10]
The Capricious Troubadour - serenade in four movements (1931) [14.10]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mikko Franck, Stefan Solyom
rec. Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, 20-22 Aug 1997 (sym), 15 June 1999 (concertino), 14 Aug 1998. DDD
Musica Sveciae Modern Classics No. 6
PHONO SUECIA PSCD 706 [72.35]

Fernström was born in China and was brought up there by his missionary parents until the age of nine when he and an elder brother was sent to Sweden for their further schooling. It was in Sweden that his interest in music was first kindled. In 1913 he attended Malmö Music Conservatory. He moved to Stockholm and after a rift with his parents eventually became a violinist with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. Dreams of becoming a great violinist came to naught. In 1923 he began serious study of composition with Peder Gram. By 1931 he had written three symphonies. He played violin in restaurants in the evening and summer months and conducted a choir and gave music lectures.

The Sixth Symphony is from 1938, the same year that he unsuccessfully applied to be appointed director of the Helsingborg Orchestra. Passed over he left Helsingborg and went to live in Malmö. Gradually fame and attention came his way with many works played in concert and on radio.

Lund became his home from 1943 to 1961. There he wrote symphonies 8 to 12, the opera Achnaton and the Second Violin Concerto. From the early 1950s his prodigious talent for music began to shrivel. As head of a music school with heavy administrative duties his creative side was allowed to fall away.

The Sixth Symphony is a big structure lasting more than 47 minutes. It is in four movements. The first is reflective of Nielsen's dynamic and stomping power - also to be heard in slightly different livery in Rosenberg in his third and sixth symphonies. The second movement speaks peacefully from a sleepy hollow. The chipper third movement is strong with upstart woodwind chirruping and hiccuping along and thunderous drum punctuation. The finale seems to be a phantasm of an early Sibelian symphonic tempest with the blurt and rasp of the First Symphony prominent and references back to the chipper third movement giving a degree of cohesion. I am not at all sure that this coheres as well as the tauter Lan Shui version on Bis but the recording really is excellent. Towards the end of the finale, and casting off the deadening feeling of fugal working out, we can hear the eager brightness of works like Wirén's Serenade and Larsson's Pastoral Suite. The piece ends in a blaze of thunder like a modern shade of the apotheosis of the dance from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

The Concertino was described by Rangström as ‘a butterfly at twilight with gold dust on its wings’. So he wrote after a Stockholm performance in spring 1943. Fernström and his brother-in-law (Gustaf Paulson) were captivated by the poetry of the American Carl Sandburg. The Concertino is for flute, small orchestra and women's choir and the words set a poem ‘New Moon’ by Sandburg. This exalts the fanciful poetry of a twilight buzzing with fireflies and moonlit Red Indian images, unsaddled ponies, night-rides and silver foxes gazing at the moon. His intention was to capture the vague melancholy fantasy of the poem.

 

The Capricious Troubadour was written during autumn 1930 at about the same time as the Fourth Symphony and the Symphonic Variations. Fernström had just returned from a year's study at Sondershausen in Germany and planned to put the lessons learnt there into practice. Accordingly we hear in this four movement (Preludium, cantabile, giocoso, finale) suite many Sibelian touches alongside gestures linking with Mahler and Weill. The parallels with Sibelian theatrical suites are clear enough with a super-fine Bergian dusting but a robust galloping open-air feeling in the Finale. The dominance goes to the same light and playful divertissement mood-set as Larsson and certain works by Von Koch.

The three works here are very naturally recorded with, if this is not a conflict in terms, the woodwind favoured. Franck seems less at home with the symphony but is completely at home with the fine skein of the Concertino. Solyom, who has shown himself an adept conductor in other Musica Sveciae releases, is superb in The Capricious Troubadour serenade.

This, like all the Musica Sveciae series, is superbly documented. I could only have wished that they could have found a work other than one already recorded by Bis to replace the Mikko Franck version of the symphony.

Rob Barnett



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