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Bernard ZWEERS (1854-1924)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1882/3) *
Concert Overture Saskia (1906)●
Suite from Incidental Music for Vondel’s Gijsbrecht van Aemstel
* Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Recorded in June 2001and made available by NPS Radio
● Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland/Jean Fournet
Recorded in May 1973 and made available by AVRO Klassiek
†Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland/Lucas Vis
Recorded in September 1980 and made available by VPRO Radio
STERLING CDS-1061-2 [57:26]

Bernard Zweers was born in 1854 in Amsterdam. Discouraged by his father, he was largely self-taught. As a young man he was bowled over by Der Ring des Nibelungen although his music was not overly influenced by Wagner. In Amsterdam, he established himself as a composer, conductor and musical educator, serving on the faculty of the Concertgebouw’s Orchestral School from its establishment in 1890. In 1895 he was appointed professor of analysis and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory serving in that post until his retirement in 1922.

Saskia is a musical portrait of Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife. The music shows that she was humble and kind and also pious (Zweers incorporates a Catholic hymn tune into this piece) but hints that the marriage weathered some stormy patches and perhaps she might have been a bit tetchy too?

The programme notes to this album are not always pertinent to the music and those referring to the Symphony include many uncomplimentary observations and cutting remarks by a contemporary critic. In truth this is not an impressive work. The opening movement is outgoing and pleasant enough. It is often heroic and noble, its influences quite plainly Beethoven and Brahms. The middle two movements are quite the reverse in mood and style. The Andante is dainty, feminine ballet music in style and rather fey with slight disturbances as though one of the ballerinas is having the sulks and the others rushing around in circles. The third movement the Andante lingers in fairyland. The finale is an odd mix of Beethoven-ish bombast and Tchaikovsky-ian ballet steps. Wit does what he can with this; what can I say, less than impressive material.

Joost van den Vondel’s stage play Gijsbrecht van Aemstel was an epic drama concerning the antagonism between the Lord of Aemstel (Gijsbrecht) and his enemy Gerard van Velzen. The old city of Amsterdam is destroyed: its citizens flee and in exile, they dream of a new reborn city. Courage, acceptance, faith and hope are the themes of the play. Zweers’ music begins well, portentously enough but the inspiration soon dries up and the music becoming pedestrian and repetitive without variety. Too often Zweers’ music sounds as if the laser ‘needle’ has stuck. Only one movement of this work impressed this reviewer – the third which is very Brahmsian. This is tenderly romantic and has an endearing melody, speaking of pathos (but spoilt by some rather poor horn playing) crescendoing to a passionate outburst.

Dull, uninspired music – a disappointment
Ian Lace

see also review by Guy Rickards who did find more to enjoy

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