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Andreas HALLÉN (1846–1925)
Romanze for violin and orchestra, Op. 16* [10:15]
Gustaf Wasas Saga (1897): Das Morgenroth [6:08];Die Vision [6:32]; Aufruhr zur Wehr [6:03]; Der Einzug [3:46]; Per Aspera ad astra [8:03]
Sphärenklänge (1895) [10:19]
Im Herbst: two lyrical pieces, Op. 38: Elfentanz in Mondeszauber [6:59]; Traumbilder in Dämmerungsschein [7:50]
Dämmerungsschein, Op. 40, No. 2 [6:49]
Peter Olofsson (violin)*
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, May-June 2006
STERLING CDS 1070-2 [72:48]



Certain composers, who during their lifetime have been frequently performed and highly regarded, tend to slip into oblivion after their death. Others, sometimes not very successful in contemporary musical life, grow in reputation when they are gone.
 
Swedish composer, conductor, critic and teacher Andreas Hallén certainly belongs to the former category. Born in Gothenburg on 22 December 1846 he was early recognized as a great musical talent. He received his first musical training from the cathedral organist in his hometown, Seldener, and was soon able to stand in for his teacher. He then moved to Germany for more advanced studies, where Reinecke in Leipzig, Rheinberger in Munich and Julius Rietz in Dresden were his teachers. After a couple of years in Gothenburg, where he re-organized the Musical Society and formed a New Choral Society and performed big choral works – Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Verdi’s Requiem among them – he returned to Germany, mainly due to conflicts caused by his terrible temper and unwillingness to compromise. During the years 1879–1883 he worked as a singing teacher and got to know more about current European music life than any other Swedish composer – not least he got hooked on Wagner. On his return to Sweden he settled in Stockholm, where, apart from a few years in the south of Sweden, he stayed for the rest of his life. He founded the Philharmonic Society and was the person who, probably more than anyone else, established Sweden as a country of choral singing. He gave the first Swedish performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. He also served as conductor at the Royal Opera.
 
As music critic as well as composition teacher, where he could count among his pupils Oskar Lindberg and Kurt Atterberg, he was stubbornly conservative. This was after the turn of the century; in his early years he was rather criticized for being too modern. He is regarded as the first Swedish Wagnerian, which is not very apparent from the music on this disc but is more obvious in his operas where he uses leitmotifs. He composed several operas, the first, Harald the Viking premiered in Leipzig in 1881, conducted by Arthur Nikisch. His most successful work was Waldemarsskatten (Valdemar’s Treasure) in 1899, based on the medieval event when Danish king Valdemar Atterdag plundered and burned Visby. It was played no less than sixty times at the Royal Opera and later also in Karlruhe. Among his other works can be mentioned a Christmas Oratorio (recorded and available on Sterling CDS 1028-2) and a large oeuvre of orchestral music. He wrote no symphonies but a number of symphonic poems with influences from Franz Liszt. Other early romantics, like Schumann and Mendelssohn, are also important inspirations and with advanced age he also found nourishment in Swedish folk music.
 
Listening to this CD one must regret that Hallén’s music mainly has rested in the archives for so long time. It is well crafted, has melodic appeal and his orchestration is inventive and more colourful than practically anything written in Sweden prior to Hugo Alfvén.
 
The Romanze for violin and orchestra, probably written in the early 1880s, opens with dark brass chords, ominous even, but then the solo violin shines through the clouds that part to reveal a warm, Nordic landscape. After about four minutes a fanfare announces a gear-shift to something livelier. Soon we return to the mood of the opening. Gradually the music grows in intensity to a climax with new, repeated fanfares and so we end on a soft note in a lyric coda. Peter Olofsson is a stylish soloist.
 
Gustaf Wasas Saga is an orchestral suite from an extensive score for soloists, choir and orchestra, written to tableaux by Daniel Fallström, from Gustaf Wasa’s Saga for the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Gustaf Wasa, given at the Royal Opera. For non-Swedish readers it might be appropriate with a short history lesson:
 
From 1397 Sweden, Norway and Denmark were in a union, a mini-EU, where the three countries were supposed to lead a joint foreign policy while retaining the supremacy in domestic questions. Although the document from the negotiations at Kalmar was never fully ratified, it seems that in the main they tried to follow the regulations, but not without numerous controversies and even uprisings. At the beginning of the 16th century this developed into actions of war. The Wasa family was one of the more influential in Sweden and Gustaf a very active rebellion, so much so that he was captured and imprisoned in Denmark, from where he managed to escape and returned to Sweden, just in time to hear the terrible news about the Stockholm Blood-bath, where the Danish king, Christian “The Tyrant”, had about 70 members of the most important families in Sweden decapitated, among them Gustaf’s father and other relatives. I should add that Christian “The Tyrant” is so titled in Swedish history writing, whereas in Denmark he is known as Christian “The Good”. In an attempt to effect a rescue from the Danish invasion, Gustaf travelled north, to the province of Dalecarlia, where the peasants were known to be patriotic and earlier in history had taken part in liberation activities against the Danes. After struggles and disappointment – events that have become myth in Swedish history – Gustaf was able to organise an army of Dalecarlian men, who managed to defeat the Danes and liberate Stockholm. In 1523 Gustaf was elected King of Sweden and then ruled the country until his death in 1560, when the eldest of his sons took over. Gustaf became a “father of his people”, the creator of the first united Sweden. He put this hitherto seriously under-developed country on the European map. He ruled his people with a rod of iron and, especially during his later years, met with disapproval and even serious uprisings. Anyway he laid the foundation for Sweden’s rise during the 17th century to one of the great powers of Europe. It is no wonder that his rule and his personality are surrounded with an aura in Swedish history. In the late 18th century, when his namesake Gustaf III was the ruler, Naumann’s opera Gustaf Wasa became the Swedish national opera. Its revival in the early 1990s showed that musically it has still a great deal to offer, even though the premiere, which I attended, was a catastrophe and was booed – which rarely happens in Sweden. It was the fault of neither the music nor the singers – Nicolai Gedda sang King Christian – but the staging. It quickly disappeared from the repertory but was recorded in the studio by Virgin. I don’t think it is available today but if it is reissued I would advise readers to give it a listen.
 
Naumann’s opera deals with the occurrences around the liberation war against the Danes, whereas Fallström’s and Hallén’s tableaux cast the net a bit wider. The five movement suite recorded here concentrates also entirely on the dramatic events during the early 1520s. The first movement, “The Red Dawn of Freedom”, depicts a spectacular sunrise followed by a pastoral morning with prominent harp and woodwind. Little by little the sun climbs higher and higher and the light – illustrated by the strings – becomes brighter and brighter. “Vision” is calm, beautiful and melodious in a kind of folk-tone. In the martial “Call to Arms” there are fanfares en masse that in due time develop into a theme that is more or less a direct quotation of La Marseillaise. The fourth movement, “The Entry”, also entitled “The Wasa March”, opens with the same theme. This is a jubilant procession to celebrate that the Swedish have defeated the Danes. The long concluding movement, “Through Suffering to Renown”, takes us from the triumphant victory that brought Gustaf Wasa to the throne, to the end of his life, where, after more than 35 years in power, he looks back on his career. The music very much reflects the mood of an old man: sad, maybe disappointed but still conscious of the great deeds he has done. Through the melancholy, light thoughts and reminiscences brighten his mood. Brooding brass harmonies alternate with sunny, transparent woodwind and ethereal strings – is this a reference to the Lohengrin prelude? Didn’t he come to save Mother Svea – the symbol of Sweden – just as Lohengrin came to save Elsa? And weren’t they both rejected, even though they both carried through their mission?
 
The same string sounds also open Sphärenklänge, which is highly evocative music. The listener is gradually elevated to the spheres, carried on an orchestral fabric ever richer and ever more harmonically luscious. The track-list states that it was written in 1895 whereas the enormously knowledgeable and reliable annotator Stig Jacobsson – from whose line-notes I have drawn much of the information in this review – stated that it was composed a full decade later. The Swedish standard reference book Sohlmans musiklexikon confirms Jacobsson’s statement.
 
“In Autumn” is the collective title of the two orchestral pieces Op. 38. The “Elves’ Dance in the Moonlight” is a gossamer light ballet sequence, where the dancers’ feet initially hardly touch the ground – which of course those of real elves never should. This is depicted with such airy elegance that even Mendelssohn in Midsummer Night’s Dream mood would have been proud to have written it! The second piece, “Dream Pictures at Twilight”, is certainly Nordic in character and someone reasonably well oriented in Nordic music from a century ago would probably at a blindfold test say Hugo Alfvén. Stig Jacobsson goes along the same lines. It is beautiful and melancholy!
 
The same mood is prevalent in “In the Twilight” for string orchestra and here is an even more distinct feeling of Swedish folk song. I will definitely give my friends in the Dalecarlian Chamber Orchestra a hint!
 
The sound is excellent, as always on Sterling’s records, and I would like to praise the indefatigable Bo Hyttner, who has done sterling - excuse the pun - service to music-lovers by rescuing so much unjustly forgotten or neglected music. I have also praised the Gävle Symphony Orchestra before, both on recordings and in live reviews. Geographically they may be provincial, musically anything but. Christopher Fifield, who besides all his other activities is also one of my reviewing colleagues here, ensures that this first class music is presented in the best possible light.
 
Off the beaten track this may be, but anyone who for some reason has left the main road on some occasion will know that there are very often landscapes of enormous beauty to investigate. This is such a landscape!
 
Göran Forsling
 



 


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