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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Intim Musik

Gösta NYSTROEM (1890-1966)
Concerto No. 1 for strings (1930): Grave - Allegro - Grave [11.04]; Adagio [9.05]; Allegro molto marcato [11.21]
Concerto No. 2 for strings (1955): Lento - Allegro [9.37]; Lento [9.54]; Allegro [7.34]
Flute Concerto Partita (1953) "Karol Szymanowski in memoriam": Lento [4.54]; Allegro [1.21]; Adagio [4.18]; Canto semplice [3.04]; Molto ritmico [2.45].
Áshildur Haraldsdóttir (flute)
Clara Heineman (harp)
Musica Vitae/Michael Bartosch
Rec. Furuby Church, Sweden, April 2002, January 2003. DDD
INTIM MUSIK IMCD 087 [75.03]

‘I cultivate absolute, pure music, but I am oddly enough at the same time an unrepentant romantic’; thus the Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem in 1959.

Sweden's Intim Musik have been building a catalogue that takes in both Swedish music and Scandinavian artists performing music from their own and other peoples' mainstreams. Their desirable collection of Nystroem songs has been reviewed on this site. That anthology is now joined by a disc containing world premieres of Nystroem's two Concertos for string orchestra. Each is in three movements and approaches thirty minutes playing time.

The notes for this release are by Lennart Reimers who tells us the Nystroem was born in the deep woods of Dalecarlia, raised in the Stockholm archipelago, lived for twelve years (1920-1932) in France and spent his last years on Sweden's west coast. Even during his Parisian sojourn he holidayed in and had his official domicile at Särö - the home of his wife who died during the early 1950s. The influence of landscape brings much more subtle tones and oblique language than that experienced in the romantic music of that other Swedish poet of the west coast - Atterberg. Atterberg’s Symphony No. 3 West Coast Pictures is a hymn to impressionistic romance yet more powerful than Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony.

Both the Sinfonia Breve (on Caprice coupled with Ishavet - Arctic Ocean) and the Concerto No. 1 were written towards the end of Nystroem’s Parisian adventure. The First Concerto is not in the same stream as Sinfonia del Mare or Songs by the Sea, the works which won the hearts of romantic traditionalists in the 1950s. Here he is more objective, even severe. The names of Hindemith, Piston, Berkeley and, up to a point, Honegger are prominent among the influences you may think of. There are touching moments as in the stillnesses in the Grave sections of the first movement and in the drawing of breath in the finale - allegro con marcato. For a moment at 10.20 a folk-accented theme sings out. Overall this is a work of grave rather than yielding pleasures.

While the First Concerto was a completely unknown quantity, at least for this listener, the Second was familiar. Good friends in Sweden and in the USA had over the years copied to me two radio broadcasts of this work. Both involved the massed strings of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The first was presumably from the 1970s and was conducted by Sixten Ehrling (b.1918) who with Stig Westerberg (1918-1999) was the champion of Swedish music. These two conductors from the 1950s onwards carried forward the ‘mantle’ of Tor Mann (1894-1974). Ehrling’s heritage adorns the catalogues of radio broadcast collectors and of the commercial lists of the Caprice label. Ehrling was to Swedish music what Boult was to British music though I fancy that his temperament had about it more of Barbirolli than the later ramrod rigour of the sixty-plus Boult. Ehrling’s version of the Second Concerto blisters paint and the central movement, a scorching Bergian adagio, is memorable for its concentrated regret. The second radio tape had Hubert Soudant (b.1946) conducting the Radio Orchestra in 1982. Soudant revels in the grand guignol and angst and turns in an impressively concentrated performance.

The Second Concerto is given a dramatic performance and recording. Impressions crowd in: sinister pianissimo shudders, melodramatic, even playful (tr.9 3.21) writing, sometimes tremulous or plaintive. The clatter of wood bows at 6.20 in the first movement sharply accents the rhythmic life of the movement. This is an active, dynamic work so if you like the Bridge Variations by Britten and the Bartók Music for strings, percussion and celesta, but somehow more humane than both, then this is certainly for you. Extremely touching high and quiet violins at 4.00 in the finale contrast with striding acid-searing strings: part Del Mare and part Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony.

By the time Nystroem had got to the Second Concerto much of his range had been purged of the eloquent romance that burns at its peak in the Sinfonia del Mare (1948). However this returns pianissimo towards the middle of the finale with a touching memory of his early subjective unashamed romantic manner. While lacking the corrosive acidity of Shostakovich the Second Concerto will appeal to you strongly if you like the Barshai transcriptions of the Quartets. The music at times suggests a link with the intense string writing in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler and Nobilissma Visione and at others with the open-air musculature of Tippett’s Double Concerto without Tippett’s melting melodic ecstasy.

The Partita is placed between the two concertos. Here the mood is familiar and the atmosphere more relaxed. There is restraint but this is romantically ingratiating music, dignified, cool, shaded in Gallic tones with recollections of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales prominent in the first movement and in the Canto semplice (tr.7). Of flute and harp it is the flute that adds the strongest flavour in this Szymanowski-dedicated piece. Long distances and the loneliness of sea-wastes hang heavily over the adagio (tr.6). If you were wondering, Nystroem knew Szymanowski from their shared Parisian years. The two were friends and the only moment when the Swedish composer's Partita sounds at all like the Polish composer's music is for one brief episode in the Lento first movement although a song of his is apparently quoted in the adagio. The hunted and thudding chesty rhythmic hammering in the finale recalls Herrmann's score for Psycho (the night drive though the rain) and the Waxman Sinfonietta for Strings. Film noir in the making.

The Partita is here given its second recording on this label. The first is on IMCD 018 recorded at the Gothenburg Concert Hall in 1992 with Göran Marcusson (flute).

Adherents of the music of Honegger, Hindemith and Bartók will love this and should not delay. Nystroem admirers (a growing band) will already have placed their orders.

Rob Barnett


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