symphonies date from the early to mid-1840s and, although
only one was performed in his lifetime, they are now recognised
as the greatest by a Swedish composer. They have been accorded
several complete recordings, as have the violin and piano
concertos. There is quite an extensive series of Berwald’s
chamber music on Naxos but his other orchestral works seem
to be recorded rarities. The Overture to The Queen of
Golconda was the only work I had heard - or even heard
of - before and, once again, we should thank Naxos for bringing
us unusual but worthwhile music at a giveaway price. The
dates of four of the works are not stated but this music
probably comes from the decade before the symphonies.
There are six
pieces here, each of similar duration. The disc opens with
Reminiscence of the Norwegian Mountains, a lofty
inspiration presumably written well after Berwald quit Scandinavia
for Berlin then Vienna. Berwald’s tone poem paints a landscape
that is more pastoral than rugged and it is finely orchestrated.
piece for bassoon and orchestra contains a very familiar
tune – Home, sweet home although Berwald’s treatment
of it is not particularly imaginative. This is a fairly
early work in three sections. It is pleasant listening but
much less characteristic of the composer than the other
pieces presented here. Patrik Håkansson makes as good as
case as possible for it.
I found the
most striking and invigorating piece here to be Wettlauf,
in which the musical language is unmistakably that of the
Sinfonie singulière. In the booklet notes Richard
Whitehouse likens it to a symphonic scherzo but little appears
to be known of its origins. The descriptive part of the
title seems appropriate enough as the work races along.
Etude? – possibly, string orchestra – no this is the full
monty and opens on the brass!
fantasy Serious and Joyful Fancies is a better piece
than the title suggests. Berwald cannot have been serious
about the “serious”. There are some imaginative woodwind
parts and a prevailing sense of fun.
The opera, The
Queen of Golconda was written towards the end of Berwald’s
life when at last he was gaining some recognition in his
native land. As far as I can determine there is no recording
of the complete work currently available. The Overture is
an intensely dramatic curtain-raiser and is given a most
spirited rendition here.
Play of the
Elves initially sounds as if Berwald had been absorbing
some Viennese influence but then there are string passages
that couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Eventually
much mischief is generated before the abrupt ending.
The Gävle Symphony
Orchestra is a 52-strong band based in provincial Sweden
– Gävle is north of Stockholm on the coast. They clearly
know their Berwald and play very well indeed for Petri Sakari
who became their chief conductor around the time this recording
was made. He also has a well-received Sibelius symphony
cycle on his CV – in particular I can recommend the sixth
and seventh - both from Naxos again. The recording here
is excellent and the venue provides just the right ambience
for the music.
This is a most
valuable addition to the catalogue – what a pity it has
been sitting around for five years. For those who know and
love Berwald’s symphonies it should go straight to the top
of the wish-list.
Patrick C Waller
see also Review
by Rob Barnett