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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Franz BERWALD (1796-1869)
Disc One

Quartet in E flat major for piano and wind (1819) [23:07]
Piano Trio No 2 in F minor (1851) [21:50]
Grand Septet in B flat major (1828) [21:38]
Disc Two

Piano Quintet No 1 in C minor (1853) [22:33]
Duo in D major for pianoforte and violin (c1858) [19:16]
Piano Trio No 4 in C major (1853) [17:14]
Susan Tomes (piano)
The Gaudier Ensemble: Marieke Blankestijn (violin); Fiona McApra (violin); Iris Juda (viola); Christoph Marks (cello); Stephen Williams (double bass); Richard Hosford (clarinet); Robin O’Neill (bassoon); Jonathan Williams (horn)
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, October, March 1995, December 1996
HYPERION DYAD CDD22053 [67:09 + 59:23]

 

I think it’s fair to say that Berwald is still best known for his excellent symphonies, which now boast a number of different versions. The chamber music has made slower headway into the repertoire, though Hyperion, as usual, has been right at the forefront of recorded interest in the composer. This excellent pair of discs were, I gather, quite a success first time round and now, at the twofer Dyad price, are set to be all over again

The works included here span nearly forty years of Berwald’s life and even liner-note writer and Scandinavian expert Robert Layton admits they are not all on the same level of inspiration. That said, even the weaker pieces are never less than enjoyable. It certainly helps that the playing throughout is so warmly sympathetic and captured in such beautifully balanced sound.

The earliest work is the Piano Quartet in E flat, written when the composer was only 23 but already with a number of chamber pieces under his belt. It’s laid out in a conventional three-movement structure and is indebted to Hummel and Spohr among others. It’s not wildly original but boasts some attractive melodic invention, particularly the short central adagio and sparkling finale, with its interesting modulations and glittering, Weber-like piano writing.

The Grand Septet is much more mature, modelled on Beethoven’s ever-popular Septet and delightfully inventive. Layton tells us that formally it anticipated the Sinfonie singulière by incorporating the scherzo into the slow movement, thus having a weighty central movement that doubles as both. The invention is definitely more inspired, with touches that remind one of Schubert; something I thought more than once throughout this set.

The pianist Hilda Thegerström seems to have been the inspiration behind a number of his chamber works with piano, and his Piano Trio in F minor is an interesting work. It is ostensibly in four movements but these are played without a break, with a seamless flow of memorable ideas. Some tunes recall Mendelssohn in their grace and sparkle, and there is real rhythmic vitality here with some original harmonic touches – witness the piano flurries in track 6, 0:38 on.

The second disc includes the later Piano Trio in C major, which is also an attractive work, though listening for a few weeks has given me more of a soft spot for that earlier F minor piece. The best work on this companion disc seems to me to be the Piano Quintet of 1853, another Thegerström inspiration. She played it in private but the first public performance did not take place for another forty years. It’s a bold, muscular piece that again incorporates a scherzo into another movement, this time the opening allegro, and is brimful of melodic and harmonic invention, something the players exploit to the full.

The Duo for piano and violin is another neglected piece, a shame as it also has much to commend it, including an attractive folk-like central andante. The high jinx of the finale show pianist Susan Tomes to be at her best, virtuosic but never showy or empty.

Indeed, this could go for the whole team, who work together to produce a blend that is pure, natural and always at the service of the music. This is delightful, urbane music that any lover of 19th Century chamber music will revel in.

Tony Haywood

 



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