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Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Tone Poems
Symphonic Poem: Reminiscence of the Norwegian Mountains [9:24]
Konzertstück for Bassoon and Orchestra (1827) [11:50]
Etude for String Orchestra: Wettlauf (Foot-Race) [8:45]
Fantasiestück for Orchestra: Ernste und heitere Grillen (Serious and Joyful Fancies) [8:44]
Overture to Drottningen av Golconda (The Queen of Golconda) (1864) [7:55]
Elfenspiel (Play of the Elves) [8:46]
Patrik Håkansson (bassoon)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Petri Sakari
rec. Gävle Concert Hall in September 2000
NAXOS 8.555370 [55:24]


Berwald’s four 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.

The concert 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!

The orchestral 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







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