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Gustaf BENGTSSON (1886-1965)
Violin Concerto in B minor (1941) *
Cello Concerto in A minor (1932) †
* Tobias Ringborg (violin)
† Mats Rondin (cello)
Malmö Opera Orchestra/Mats Rondin*; Tobias Ringborg †
Recorded at the Palladium, Malmö, June 2004
STERLING CDS-1063-2 (59:42)

Two Bengtsson concertos: a violin concerto and a cello concerto and a novel idea - having the violinist conduct the Cello Concerto accompaniment and vice versa. And what delightful works these are, so wonderfully melodic. It is incredible that these warm-hearted works, cast in the Late Romantic tradition, are not better known and have not been recorded until now. Once again, the music world is indebted to Bo Hyttner and his enterprising Sterling label for introducing us to such appealing works under the label’s Swedish Romantics collection.

Bengtsson’s Violin Concerto is unmistakeably Nordic in character and quite pictorial. The opening movement spans nearly eighteen minutes commencing with a strongly rhythmic theme that has tripping/marching figures. This imposing material is counterbalanced by a ravishingly beautiful theme that is reminiscent of Max Bruch in its romantic intensity. Tobias Ringborg is both assertive in the more extrovert passages and poetic in the more tender filigree writing. The second movement is hauntingly plaintive and nostalgic, rising to an impassioned climax; Grieg’s influence is discernible and Delius’s shadow in the wings. The finale, marked Rondo brillante, Allegro moderato energico has a Spanish, colouring and gypsy fireworks (and a touch of Saint-Saëns as well as de Falla), showing off Ringborg’s virtuosity. Autumnal, nostalgic melody opposes this energetic outpouring and the work rises to a warm but powerful climax.

The Cello Concerto begins eerily as though the music is influenced by Nordic mythology (trolls etc). The cello muses, argues against such strange figures, the orchestra defiantly answering until the mood lightens and suddenly another haunting, heart-on-sleeve melody arrives developed by both soloist and orchestra; you can imagine Max Steiner writing it for Bette Davis. Drama and romance alternate through the movement. The beautiful, elegiac Andante slow movement, eloquently read by Rondin, was highly regarded and sometimes performed separately. It has a quiet prayer-like quality. The rhythmically interesting finale has an out-of-doors freshness and vivacity and glowing nostalgic material.

Gustaf Bengtsson was born in Vadstena, Sweden. He studied organ and counterpoint and composition at Stockholm Conservatory; and in 1907, Conrad Nordqvist offered him a position as violinist with the Royal Opera Orchestra. His début as composer came in 1912 when the Royal Opera Orchestra gave a symphony concert introducing new works by three young Swedish composers all of them making their débuts: Kurt Atterberg, Oskar Lindberg and Gustaf Bengtsson. But soon Bengtsson was to move away from Stockholm to provincial towns of Karlstad and Linkö the south-west. Here he would compose most of his music and his absence from the capital might explain his comparative neglect?

Sterling have already issued another Bengtsson collection on CDS-1008-2 that includes the composer’s best known work, a suite called I Vadstena klosta (In Vadstena convent) the First Symphony and the symphonic poem, Vettern.

Why have these lovely melodic concertos been so ignored? Every soloist should be considering them. I urge you to hear them.

Ian Lace

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