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Gösta NYSTROEM (1890-1966)
Sinfonia Shakespeariana - Symphony No. 4 (1951/52) [25:14]
(I. Lento - Allegro - Lento [8'31]; II. Allegro scherzando [5'20]; III. Allegro [11'23])
Sinfonia tramontana - Symphony No.6 (1965) [28:11]
(I. Lento - Allegro molto scherzando - Lento [15'08]; II. Lento - Allegro - Andante [13'03])
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/B Tommy Andersson
Rec. Malmö Concert Hall, Sweden, Feb 2002 (4); Sept 2003 (6). DDD
BIS-CD-1082 [53:25]

With this most welcome release from Bis all six of Nystroemís symphonies are at last available on CD.

Gösta Nystroemís six symphonies are:-

Sinfonia breve (No. 1) (1931)
Sinfonia espressiva (No. 2) (1935)
Sinfonia del Mare (No. 3) (1948)
Sinfonia Shakespeariana (No. 4) (1951/52)
Sinfonia seria (No. 5) (1963)
Sinfonia tramontana (No. 6) (1965)

Four of them (2, 4-6) are on Bis. The others can be had on Caprice (1) and Swedish Society Discofil and Phono Suecia (3). The most recorded of the symphonies is No. 3 although the count for that work runs to only three versions (Mann, Westerberg, Svetlanov). With the exception of the Sinfonia del Mare all the Nystroem symphonies are rarities and we are not exactly spoilt for a range of versions of Del Mare either. Incidentally the Sinfonia del Mare always struck me as a natural for Naxos perhaps coupled with Alfvénís Fourth Symphony if the timings work out.

Bisís customary cultural rigour is fully evident in the present disc. It was audacious to record two previously unrecorded symphonies back to back. There is a hackneyed piece of commercial wisdom that tells record companies that if you are going to record a rare piece make sure you couple it with a less exotic work. Bis confidently kick that trend. OK the playing time is on the short side but at least the company did not take the easy way out by recording just one of these symphonies and coupling it with a slightly less obscure piece of Nystroem - perhaps Del Mare.

The two previous Bis discs (listed below) were made by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra with conductor Paavo Järvi. After seeming to be the lynch-pin of the Bis-Nystroem Järvi now departs and is replaced by B Tommy Andersson who makes his debut with Bis having previously made recordings for Bo Hyttnerís Sterling label.

It is extremely difficult to convey in words the sound of Nystroemís music. The best I can do is to compare it with the tense romanticism of Hindemithís Harmonie der Welt mixed with a little Bartók (Concerto for Orchestra) softened with Ravelís tenderness.

Nystroem was a late starter in the composition stakes having also been more than adept in writing and art. His interest in literature included Shakespeare. He wrote incidental music to The Tempest (the Prelude is included on the same Phono Suecia CD as the Svetlanov del Mare) and The Merchant of Venice. The notes tell us that each movement of the Sinfonia shakespeariana was originally prefaced by Shakespeare quotations - some from the sonnets others from The Tempest. Again this work has not gained any form of hold on the active concert-hall repertoire. There have however been Swedish radio broadcasts by Stig Westerberg from a tape of which I know the work. It was premiered by Sixten Eckerburg conducting the Gothenburg Orchestral Association.

It receives a warm and sumptuously detailed recording that flatters the composerís interplay of transiently gusting furies, Scandinavian half-lights and mercurial fantasy. The work constantly cross-refers to the sound-world of Del Mare; a work that preceded it by five years. Nystroem has nevertheless moved on as the creative dissonances in the Allegro finale indicate. One can imagine how the composer, who was also suffering from persistent meningitis at the time, must have struggled to write the successor to what rapidly became his most celebrated symphony. The second movement reflects the love of Miranda and Ferdinand. The other movements flow with variety from the grimness of Caliban, the wildness of the storm, the cauldron of plots and ambition and the nobility of Prospero although in fact the quotations are from Sonnets 60 and 33. Although the composer toyed with the idea of withdrawing and destroying the work it operates well as an expression of typically moody symphonism. If you were wondering there is nothing shallow, charming or suite-like about this music and here it really is most beautifully recorded.

Blessed also with literary and artistic gifts Nystroem first turned strongly to music in his mid-thirties. Even so he continued painting especially during his tours of the French Mediterranean coastline. We are assured that it was these dazzling views that inspired Sinfonia tramontana taking its title from the wind that sweeps over the Provençal countryside 'from beyond the mountains' (i.e. Tramontana). Frankly this does not feel or sound like a pictorial landscape although it is noticeably by the same composer who wrote del Mare. We hear this in the spiky scherzo counterpointed with gun-metal grey brass at 10.00 onwards in the first of the two movements. The stormily explosive moments may put you in mind of Vaughan Williamsí Fourth Symphony. In the first movement the slippery ppp of the violins and violas and then of the cellos speaks of troubled musings - midnight thoughts. The composer died the year after this symphony was completed. The first movement ends in a fine silvery glow that is quiet and submissive. The second is similarly varied in mood and landscape, nightmare and idyll. Nystroem is in some ways comparable with Rubbra: intensely serious without being dull, prone to fugal moments (tr. 5, 9.23) but far too freewheelingly emotional to become stuck in any academic rut. Nystroem however is fond of the underpinning of gruff barking bass, rolling timpani and chasmal tam-tam; moments when the music refers to a world in savage conflict. Perhaps the influence is to be found in the wars raging at the time in the Congo and Vietnam as well as in the threat of Nuclear War. The work, which has never caught on, was premiered after Nystroemís death by Stig Westerberg with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Where next after this? No doubt Bis will in due time complete the cycle by letting B Tommy Andersson loose on Del Mare and Breve. The series will then be a natural for a complete box of the symphonies as has been Bisís habit for Nielsen, Tubin, Sibelius, Stenhammar and Martinů. Beyond that there are the two string quartets which await recording. The most promising of those works, lying in historyís ante-room, is the grand opera Herr Arnes Penningar (Mr Arneís Money).

The indispensable notes for this most valuable release are by Stig Jacobsson. He mentions the composerís memoirs entitled All I recall is delight and light published in 1968 two years after his death. That title was surely more aspirational than actual. The darkness of the natural and psychological worlds was part and parcel of the intercession between his creativity and his audience.

Rob Barnett


This disc should be seen in the context of the other Bis instalments in this series:-

BIS-CD-782 Sinfonia espressiva (No.2) (1935-37) and Sinfonia seria (No.5) (1963) for strings, flute and percussion

BIS-CD-682 Ishavet (La mer arctique), Poème symphonique (1924-25); Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Hommage à la France (1941); Sinfonia concertante for Cello and Orchestra (1944, rev. 1951-52)

Also in the background are two non-Bis discs:-

Svetlanovís version of Nystroemís Sinfonia del Mare is on Phono Suecia PSCD 709:-
There is a fine Intim recording of the two Concertos for Strings:-

information received

There is a disparity between the description of Sinfonia Shakespeariana in the booklet and the work that appears on the CD. I am grateful to Guy Rickards for providing the following note of explanation:-

ĎIt seems clear now after various enquiries that the symphony was originally in four movements: Lento, Allegro scherzando, Lento, Allegro, and performed as such in the early 1950s (conducted by Sixten Eckerberg in 1952 and Dean Dixon in 1954), but by the time of a 1961 Swedish Radio broadcast had been drastically overhauled, with the "first and fourth movements shortened and changed, the second and third movements have been merged and shortened into one". Those comments (in English translation) were made by a producer,
Tomas Londahl, in 1987 and appended to what is obviously the original (4-movt) 1952 ms after a comparison in 1987 of it with a tape of the 1961 broadcast.

ĎI have not found out yet how extensive the revisions were to the outer movements, but it is clear that Nystroem replaced the original trio of the scherzo with a truncated version of the third movement, excising the whole third movement as a result.í

Guy Rickards


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