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Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867-1942)
Solitudo: The Complete Piano Music - Volume 4
Italiana: Solhymn (Sun Hymn); Vision antique: Dansande nymf (Vision antique: Dancing Nymph); Vision antique: Evoe Bacche!; Villa d'Este; Sorrentinsk serenade (Serenade of Sorrento); Tre nya danspoem (Three New Dance Poems): När mor var ung (When Mother Was Young); På gräset under lindarna (In the Grass Under the Lindens); Livets danslek (Life's Dance Game); Tre tondikter för piano (Three Tone Poems for Piano): Lycka (Happiness); In memoriam; Amerikansk dans (American Dance); Solitudo: Glam (Gaiety); Ungkarlsvalsen (Bachelor Waltz); Bukolikon (Bucholic); Tonfilm, barntillåten (Movie, Children Admitted); Gåtan (Enigma); Anakreontika I: Till lyran (To the Lyre); Till duvan (To the Dove); Drömtydning (Dream Interpretation); Anakreontika II: Oraklet (The Oracle); Flöjtspel på Peneios (Flute-playing on Peneios); Till Eros (To Eros); Anakreons dans (Anacreon's Dance)
Olof Höjer (piano)
rec. Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg, Sweden, 5-7 May 2005
SWEDISH SOCIETY DISCOFIL SCD 1089 [78:40]

This disc covers the last phase of Peterson-Berger's piano oeuvre and consequently is the last in this series; the last that is unless Olof Höjer plans to re-record Frösöblomster, which already exists in a fine recording from the early 1990s. The last two decades of the composer's life were marked by a decline in creativeness, even though his fine violin concerto (1928) shows the old lion in fine fettle. Among the pieces featured there is much of interest, though it has to rub shoulders with some scrapings. Italiana - Five tone poems is a fascinating collection, the fruits of his visit to Italy between October 1920 and April 1921. It also exists in an orchestral version. Praising the sun was something P-B had done before, but this late encounter with the Mediterranean evoked those feelings again. One gets the impression that this sun shines brighter. The work radiates a melodic glow unique in his piano writing. The two antique visions are quite different: Dancing nymph floats through the air, wrapped in a thin veil, while the second vision, celebrating Bacchus, is a noisy and towards the end ecstatic piece. A serene stillness reigns around Villa d'Este, something quite different from Liszt's well-known, colourful description of the fountains in the garden. The concluding Serenade of Sorrento is something of an anti-climax.

In the Three new dance poems one feels transported back to the world of Frösöblomster decades earlier, but in a more subdued atmosphere. The Three tone poems for piano, published in 1928, were originally printed in "Dagens Nyheter", the daily newspaper where P-B was music critic for many years, and honestly it seems a bit presumptuous to label them "tone poems". They are bagatelles, however charming, and the third, American Dance, isn't even that. It may be a parody of the new jazz music that P-B on more than one occasion had condemned - "idiotic" he once wrote and later "jazz undermines general European musical taste in the secular sphere". Some syncopation apart there isn't much jazz feeling but the pianist has to play a couple of five-octave glissandi that can raise an eye-brow or two. Even Olof Höjer has not decided whether this is seriously intended music.

Solitude is a mixed bag of the charming and the strange. To the former category belongs the Bachelor Waltz, simple but written in a folk-music idiom, balancing between gaiety and melancholy. Movie could be an attempt at silent movie music paraphrase. A very simple children's song is followed by some rapid running music and suddenly it's over. Enigma is indeed enigmatic. It is a series of fragments, seemingly disconnected, and ends in mid-air.

The two collections of Anakreontika, named after the Greek poet Anacreon, who lived in the 6th century BC, are a little difficult to categorize. There is a dreamlike atmosphere in several of them. Even without actually knowing it I would probably have guessed that this was the work of an old man.

As I have said in my earlier reviews of P-B's music it is well worth making its acquaintance. Frösöblomster remains first choice but from there one can explore his work both backwards and forwards. Olof Höjer has devoted much time delving into this music and clearly knows its inner workings. There is no flashiness - apart from those glissandi in the American Dance. Peterson-Berger never had any virtuoso ambitions. Höjer catches this to perfection. His are trustworthy readings and if that sounds less than enticing it is meant as a compliment.

His booklet notes are far more than that; in fact reading the comments for all four discs one get a full-size portrait of this much-loved and also much-hated cultural personality in Sweden during the first four decades of the 20th century.

Göran Forsling



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