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Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867 – 1942)
The Complete Piano Music - Volume 2: Six Piano Tunes (1897): When the rowan blooms – Gångtrall – In the western mountains – Fiddler – Chorus mysticus – Nachspiel; Invention à 2 voci (1897); Gliding skies (1897); The star-boys (1897); Norrland rhapsody (1900); Four Dance Poems (1900): To the foredancers – Summer dreams – Morning breeze – Serenade; Last Summer (1903): The mountain – The lake – The moor – A squirrel and a stock dove – The spruce forest – The mountain stream.
Olof Höjer (piano)
Recorded at the Svaneholm Castle, Skåne, Sweden, March 2001.
Instrument: Hornung & Möller, Copenhagen 1903 – 1904.


Not long ago I reviewed Volume 3 in this series with Peterson-Berger’s piano music and there I also gave some background information about P-B, as he is commonly known in Scandinavia. Now I have moved backwards to Volume 2, covering the period 1897 – 1903, which are regarded as his best years. Most of his large-scale works, the symphonies, operas and the violin concerto, appeared later and P-B himself regarded them as his most important creations. However to the general public his middle-period songs and piano compositions are the best of him. The first two collections of his ever-popular Frösöblomster are also roughly from this period. If you know them or if you are familiar with, say, Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, you have an idea of what to expect from this disc. Even if P-B can be uneven he is very often on a par with Grieg. There is a Nordic tone in both composers’ work and it is not always easy to decide who is who in a blindfold test.

The Six Piano Tunes are varied in character, from the hearty Gångtrall (the title meaning a song that you sing, without words, while walking) via the bare, barren landscape of The western mountains and the calm of the Chorus mysticus which is a piano transcription of P-B’s choral song Hvile i skoven (Resting in the forest). The choral original is one of his finest compositions in that oeuvre and on the whole his choral writing is well worth exploring. There is, for example, a very fine collection of songs for mixed choir on Bluebell ABCD 030 with The Mikaeli Chamber Choir. Nachspiel is virtuosic and is played almost nonchalantly, in a positive sense, by Olof Höjer. This piece should win listeners with a taste for "light classics".

Gliding skies is one of the finest compositions on this disc, impressionistically inward. The star-boys needs, I suppose, an explanation to non-Scandinavians. These boys are part of the Lucia-tradition, celebrated on December 13. Then "The queen of Light", Santa Lucia, originally a Sicilian saint who emigrated to Sweden in the Middle Ages, comes with candles in her hair, followed by her maids, all dressed in white. Often they are followed by so-called star-boys, also in white, carrying stars on long sticks and wearing high cone-shaped hats. They also sometimes appear on their own, as in this composition, where we first hear them approach in a procession (there is a march-like theme). Then they stop and sing, we hear a chorale, and so they leave again. This exotic tradition is depicted by P-B in this little piece which could be regarded as programme music. On a much bigger scale is the Norrland rhapsody, where Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies might be the model, even if P-B loathed Liszt’s technical wizardry. It is built on several known and lesser-known folksongs and ends very calmly.

The Four Dance Poems are all waltzes and the last of them, Serenade, is very Chopinesque and could hold a place in any collection of piano favourites.

Last Summer is a sequence of loosely connected pictures of nature, especially the open landscape of northern Sweden, where P-B was born and where he eventually returned and settled. The suite ends with the rousing Mountain stream.

Olof Höjer, as always, presents well calculated readings. He knows this music better than most and inflects it so naturally; to the manner born. You never get the feeling that he gets in the way of the music; he lets the music speak for itself.

When it comes to comparisons there is very little indeed. The legendary Stig Ribbing (he was born in 1904 and lived until very recently) was a life-long champion of P-B’s music. He recorded the first set of Frösöblomster on two 78s (Musica SK 19850/51) and then again in the 50s for HMV on two EPs (I still have one of them somewhere), and finally in the early 70s three LPs, again Frösöblomster, complete this time, plus a lot more. On volume 3, which I own, well worn by now, he plays several of the Six Piano Tunes and, apart from the more congested sound, there is little to choose between him and Höjer; they are both masters. But I have to say that Ribbing’s Mountain stream murmurs more intensely, more mountainously than Höjer’s brook, searching its way through the flatter landscape of southern Sweden.

It should also be mentioned that this disc was recorded in the 16th century castle Svaneholm on a Danish-built instrument, more or less contemporary with the music. It has a suitably warm tone. As usual Olof Höjer has written his own booklet text, and as usual he gives much useful background information.

Of Nordic piano composers from days gone by, no one, except Grieg, is more worthy of being played in the rest of the world than Wilhelm Peterson-Berger. This disc is as good a starting point as any. It has given me a lot of pleasure and I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone wishing to broaden his/her pianistic horizon.

Göran Forsling

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