Berwald is best known
for his four symphonies which have been
recorded several times complete (EMI,
Arte Nova, Hyperion). Naxos, true to
form, have their own entry in the Berwald
symphony stakes (Helsingborg Symphony
Orchestra/Okko Kamu 8.553051 and 8.553052)[not
reviewed]. The symphonies are
memorable not only for their melodic
originality but also for the idiomatic
and even eccentric woodwind writing.
The present disc fills
in part of the surrounding detail with
recordings of some of the overtures
and tone poems from the 1840s.
of the Norwegian Mountains is a
short tone poem with a reflective introduction
off-set by some bustling and dramatic
writing which perhaps suggests the legendary
denizens of the high places. The writing
is Weberian in the manner of Freischütz
and Oberon but contrasted
with pages of Mozartian lyrical lightness
and aplomb (7:03) and even a hint of
Brahms Violin Concerto. The Bassoon
Konzertstück has its share
of classical thunder and lightning.
I do not recall an earlier recording
of Wettlauf. In any event this
one is once again in the same sinister
Weberian 'wolf-glen' mould as the Reminiscence.
There’s also the 'gamely' obstreperous
woodwind work to be found in the symphonies.
Some of this actually looks forward
to Tchaikovsky. The piece ends in belligerent
muscularity not too many steps from
Beethoven's Seventh. The supernatural
and melodramatic comes even more to
the fore in the Ernste und heitere
Grillen and the Elfenspiel.
The latter occupies territory between
Tchaikovsky's Astarte and waterfall
in Manfred and Beethoven's rustic
japes in the Pastoral.
The success of Berwald's
opera Estrella da Soria in 1862
encouraged him to write another. The
overture to this second opera Drottningen
av Golconda is as flighty and fanciful
- sometimes mercurially dreamy - as
the Ernste und heitere Grillen.
If the shadow of Beethoven 5's ‘fate’
motif plays over the finale we can forgive
Berwald this venal sin - if sin it be.
After all if you listen to a certain
Mozart overture you will hear a remarkable
similarity with Beethoven's Eroica.
There's one oddity.
The insert lists as a subtitle of Wettlauf
'etude for string orchestra' but
Wettlauf is for full orchestra
- it's a puzzle.
The recording is wonderfully
alive and the ambience of the Gävle
Concert Hall provides splendid detail
for the more transparently scored sections
and a touch of over-resonance when the
orchestra and Berwald are going at full
tilt. In general though Michael Ponder
and Torbjorn Samuelsson have capitalised
well on the hall's character.