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Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Reminiscence of the Norwegian Mountains - symphonic poem for large orchestra [9:24]
Konzertstück for bassoon and orchestra (1828) [11:50]
Wettlauf (Foot-Race) [8:45]
Ernste und heitere Grillen (Serious and Joyful Fancies) - Fantasiestück for orchestra [8:44]
Overture to Drottningen av Golconda (The Queen of Golconda) (1864) [7:55]
Elfenspiel (Play of the Elves) [8:46]
Patrick Håkansson (bassoon)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Petri Sakari
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, 13-15 Sept 2000. DDD
NAXOS 8.555370 [55:24]


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.

The Reminiscence 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.

Rob Barnett

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