Britta Byström is a young Swedish composer still in her early
thirties. The otherwise informative insert notes, however, do
not say much about her musical background, except that she began
playing the trumpet when she was eleven years old and started
her studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm in circa
1995. Neither is there any biography of her to be found in the
Swedish Music Information Centre’s otherwise detailed list of
works and recordings. So, one is left with the music which is
much indeed, for she seems to have a substantial output to her
credit including several orchestral works and a chamber opera
Om man blir av med sitt baggage (“If you lose your luggage”)
of which the final aria closes this well filled release.
The insert notes
go to some length concerning the literary sources, no matter
how tenuous, hinting at some subliminal programme; but “Britta
Byström does not write programme music, but the titles are openers.
They open doors left ajar.” Suffice it to say that some of the
works recorded here have some loose connection with one literary
source or another: Persuasion (Jane Austen), The Baron
in the Tree (Italo Calvino) and A Study in Scarlet
(Conan Doyle) whereas Farewell Variations clearly refer
to Haydn and Sera is a sort of mood picture.
En studie i rött
(“A Study in Scarlet”), completed in 1996, is the earliest
work here. Compared to the other, somewhat later works recorded
here, the music of this short diptych displays some greater
urgency or impatience, as the present annotator has it, and
more stringency although one quickly realises that some of Byström’s
hallmarks are already present in this relatively early work.
was commissioned for the conducting competition Svenska Dirigentpriset.
The music was to be devised to challenge a conductor. The title
(after Jane Austen) thus refers to the conductor’s attempts
to convince the orchestra about his/her intentions, “a suitor
who is measured and weighed by a finicky family” (the composer’s
words). The piece opens a bit tentatively in ambiguity but quickly
gains in assurance although the music allows some slower, more
meditative sections soon brushed aside by Byström’s propulsive
rhythms, the latter being at times rather tricky (a real challenge
for the conductor here). I do not know whether this short, brilliantly
scored and quite effective piece achieved its aim as far as
the conducting competition was concerned, but it certainly is
a splendid concert-opener that deserves to become popular.
I must admit that
I am a bit less sure about the possible link between Italo Calvino’s
novel Il barone rampante and Byström’s eponymous ear-tickling
percussion concerto composed in 2000. “The starting point for
Byström was to compose from thoughts of freedom with limits”.
Right, but I do not known whether one is so much the wiser after
reading this. What comes clearly through this often delicately
scored percussion concerto, is the refined sound world conjured
by the composer. This is achieve by leaving most if not all
heavy percussion instruments out and focussing on metal and
wood percussion instruments which gives the score some oriental
tinge - is it a mere coincidence that the soloist here is Japanese-born?.
The first two movements move at fairly moderate tempos (the
second movement is clearly slow) whereas the final one is rhythmically
much livelier. This beautifully crafted and often quite attractive
work is undoubtedly a most welcome addition to the present-day
expanding repertoire for percussion concertos.
As already mentioned
earlier in this review, the Avskedsvariationer (“Farewell
Variations”) rather refer to Haydn than to any literary source.
One of the most remarkable things about this work is that the
variations are not on a theme of Haydn but rather on
Byström’s original theme. The title of each variation, too,
obliquely alludes to some of Haydn’s “titled” symphonies such
as “Morning”, “The Hunt”, “The Dinner”, “La Passione”, “The
Clock” and – of course – “The Farewell”. Moreover, the variations
are arranged in such a way as to “describe the events of a single
day, starting with “Morning”. The fourteen short variations
follow each other seamlessly with seemingly inexhaustible invention
and imagination, while each of them is neatly characterised
in short but telling strokes. This is another splendid work
that I enjoyed enormously.
in 2002 as the composer’s diploma work and revised in 2007,
is probably the only work here that does not have any literary
association. Rather it is “a journey through different musical
landscapes, always in the evening light” (the composer’s words);
but – curiously enough – it is not the impressionist Nocturne
that might have been expected. Although it possesses some nocturnal
sounds and colours, the music is sometimes quite nervous and
at times not unlike that heard in A Study in Scarlet.
Again, though, several of the composer’s fingerprints are to
be spotted, I for one also noted some faint echoes of Tippett,
such as his often capricious rhythms and coruscating counterpoint,
but this may be purely coincidental. (By the way I also spotted
some echoes from Tippett in Farewell Variations.) Incidentally
I mention Tippett to give some idea of what the music may at
times sound like, but in no way to suggest any blunt imitation.
The last item in
this generously filled release is Patricia’s final aria of Byström’s
chamber opera Om man blir av met sitt baggage (“If you
lose your luggage”) The opera takes place in a limbo-like transit
area, placed beyond life and on the way towards death. The characters
are newly deceased (the philosopher Tobias, the businesswoman
Patricia) and the Angel who is to guide the dead onwards and
who continually takes on new roles. (This piece of information
is drawn from the insert notes.) This quite beautiful aria is
set in a deceptively simple but very effective way, and must
be quite gripping on stage. It is superbly sung here by Agneta
Britta Byström may
still be regarded as a young composer - she certainly looks
a healthy smiling young woman - but her music already displays
quite a number of characteristics that one quickly comes to
regard as hallmarks, were it only because they keep reappearing
from one work into another (mind you, I did not say “repeating”)
such as expressive glissandi, melodic phrases, rhythmical patterns
and the overall tone of the music. Judging from what one hears
here, one may also safely say that Britta Byström has a real
orchestral flair and has succeeded in creating a sound-world
all of her own. I certainly look forward to hearing more of
her music in the near future. I wish that I could receive discs
such as this every week.