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Gustaf BENGTSSON (1886-1965)
Violin Concerto in B minor (1941) [31:43]
Cello Concerto in A minor (1932) [27:33]
Tobias Ringborg (violin)
Mats Rondin (cello)
Malmö Opera Orchestra/Mats Rondin (Violin Concerto); Tobias Ringborg (Cello Concerto)
Rec. Palladium, Malmö, Sweden. 3-4, 8 June 2004 (Violin Concerto); 1-2 June 2004 (Cello Concerto). DDD
STERLING CDS-1063-2 [59:42]


The rate of production for what amounts to a one-man outfit, even if that man is Bo Hyttner, is phenomenal. He is, I suppose, the Richard Itter (Lyrita Recorded Edition), of Sweden; it’s just that he is still producing, shows no sign of flagging and shares the heritage month after month. Sterling’s enterprise in the loving promotion of the late-romantic musical production of Sweden and many other European nations, is something we have come to take for granted. Sterling is not alone, of course; look at Timpani in France, Danacord in Denmark and Proprius also in Sweden. None of these labels however is as audaciously exploratory as Sterling.

On this showing Bengtsson in the 1930s and 1940s was happily writing in an idiom derived from Bruch, Schumann (a little) and Tchaikovsky (those woodwind graces in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto). This is flavoured and enlivened by a sometimes louring Scandinavian character - most apparent at the start of the first movement of the Violin Concerto. The rustic dancing side of Scandinavian folk culture can be heard in the finale of the concerto. It is bluff and energetic avoiding country-kitsch and written in an idiom related to Grieg’s more vigorous Gynt music. This is warm and singing writing as the second movement’s duet between gloriously round-toned French horns and the solo instrument proves.

The Cello Concerto is another romantic and dramatic piece, surging and plunging (in the two outer movements) with deeply satisfying work for the cellist. As with the middle movement of the other concerto there is, in the Cello Concerto’s Andante cantabile, a temperate quasi-Delian summery heat. This is affectionately rounded music which touches Tchaikovskian territory. Once again there is a dialogue for the cello with soft-focus French horns. From this music it is a small step onwards to the languages of Korngold and Elgar.

There are some very fine moments here. I would place the two concertos above the Violin Concerto of Josef Sillén (Sterling CDS-1044-2) another Swede who aligned his style with the Bruch-Tchaikovsky axis. Bengtsson’s music might loosely be grouped with Peterson-Berger whose symphonies (especially 2 and 3) are often inspired well above the common touch. It is not as radiant as that of P-B but it is unassumingly rewarding and sometimes much more so.

After a slightly sour start Ringborg warms to a liquid and golden tone. The Malmö violins sounded a little hard rather than sumptuous at first but you soon adjust. Mats Rondin has studied with Helmerson, Pleeth, Kirshbaum and Rostropovich. His sound is well suited to this grandly nostalgic and haunting music.

From the age of six, Bengtsson, a child blessed with perfect pitch, was taught by his father to play the violin. By his teens he was also a more than capable organist and deputised for this father at the St Birgitta Convent at Vadstena, his birthplace. In 1904 he began studies at the Stockholm Conservatory. The conductor Conrad Nordqvist then offered Bengtsson a place in the Royal Opera Orchestra. His debut as a composer was when his Second Symphony was premiered at a concert alongside major pieces by Atterberg and Lindberg. This was in 1912. As a permanent conductor in Karlstad, Värmland held him for twenty years. In 1942 he moved to Linköping where a director’s position occupied him until 1956. His Symphony No. 1 (of 3) has been recorded on Sterling CDS-1008-2. His memories of the Convent are affectionately reflected in the orchestral suite I Vadstena Kloster (In Vadstena Cloisters) recorded on Sterling CDS-1008-2. There is also a symphonic poem Vettern on the same disc.

The fully detailed notes for the present disc are by Stig Jacobsson.

Is this the first CD to couple two concertos and to have the soloist in each concerto the conductor for the other concerto? I feel a nugget of musical trivia beginning to form.

This disc gives us a companionable pair of concertos that will appeal strongly to romantic nationalists everywhere. The music is in a blend of received styles and none the worse for that. Now, how about a CD of the other two symphonies please?

Rob Barnett

see also review by Ian Lace - November Recording of the Month


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