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Seen & Heard
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Piano Sonata in G minor (1890) [22:02]
Nights of Late Summer (Sensommarnätter) Op.
33 (1900-1905) [15:58]
Three Fantasies Op. 11 (1895) [15:00]
Piano Sonata in A flat major Op. 12 (1895) [23:10]
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 15-17 April 2007.
Full tracklist at end.
actually wrote five piano sonatas, but he considered the
first three childish efforts and included only the two on
this disc in his own worklist. They, along with the Three
Fantasies, date from the age of about 19 to 24. Only the Nights
of Late Summer can be truly considered a mature work.
But if the style of the other pieces is not that of the composer
we know from the more famous orchestral and chamber works,
much of the composer’s personality is already in evidence.
Sonata in G-minor shows Stenhammar still very influenced
by Schumann, but the vitality shown in the orchestral works
is already there - a feature Sturfält brings out well. The
Schumann influence also generates a charming whimsicality
that is not always so present in the composer’s more Nordic
works. The first movement is very poetic and the Romanza even
more so. The scherzo is a little more individual with an
interesting trio related to the second movement and the reprise
of the scherzo leads cleverly into the last movement. This
last is definitely more mature - both in the emotional and
structural sense - than anything that has come before.
few years later Stenhammar wrote the Three Fantasies. These
show him as having moved from Schumann to Brahms as an influence,
especially to the passionate, intricate side of that composer.
The first shows Stenhmammar using Brahmsian devices in his
own way, while the second is less impressive, although again
it shows charm and whimsy. The last demonstrates the composer
creating themes that are more individual and which are both
folk-like and complexly developed. A very beautiful piece.
Sonata in A-flat comes from the next year and shows a greater
conciseness and harmonic ability than in the previous works.
Brahms continues to be a major influence in the first movement,
but becomes a little less evident as the piece continues.
In the scherzo Stenhammar seems to be attempting to see how
fast he can make the pianist play and one is reminded of
the fact that he was perhaps the greatest executant in Scandinavia
in his lifetime. There is an attractive trio for contrast.
The slow movement is again something new-solemn, and chordally
built around a single motif, leading into the finale, which
is energetic, but not without humor. Virtuoso elements alternate
with quite gentle ones and are synthesized at the end.
the five pieces of Nights of Late Summer we come to
fully-developed Stenhammar. These works show a wide variety
of mood and form while being laid out in a tonal structure
that proceeds from C-minor to F-sharp minor. While evocative
of the Swedish landscape they also tell us about the composer’s
inner landscape. The opening tranquillo shows a totally
different understanding of the piano than that evidenced
in the earlier pieces with nocturnal brooding leading to
a moment of agitation before returning to the opening atmosphere.
The poco presto is in the same key of C-minor as the
first piece and agitation again sets in as the piece progresses.
But this time it remains to the end. The middle movement
could be described as impressionistic, but in the composer’s
own way - it’s rather murky and questioning. The middle section
of this movement is tonally uncertain before returning to
a more granitic reprise of the opening. There’s more agitation
in the fourth piece as Stenhammar takes a wonderful theme
and makes it progressively more disturbed through an inspired
use of tonality. The last piece is rather unique - a little
rondo with one section in a Sibelius-like rhythm contrasted
with yet another beautiful slower theme.
word for Martin Sturfält is dynamic. He attacks the fast
passages of this music with tremendous energy. But the poetry
does not escape him either. His sense of phrasing in the
G-minor sonata is admirable and he handles the moments of
Schumannesque charm in this piece and in the Op. 11 very
well. His sense of overall structure is also good, although
he occasionally gets lost in this regard. It is to be hoped
that Mr. Sturfält will record the rest of the Stenhammar
piano music or at least the mature works. The last such effort
was the BIS two-disc set from 1993. The recording quality
here is up to Hyperion’s usual high standards.
And a further perspective
by Rob Barnett
am nowhere near as familiar with the Swedish composer Stenhammar
as a master of the solo piano as I am with Stenhammar the
creator of two symphonies and six string quartets. Hyperion
and Martin Sturfält put that right with this generously timed
and planned disc.
is surely the music of a late-romantic whose music blends
the spirits of Schumann and Brahms with the limpid essence
of Scandinavian nights. Make no mistake though it is very
much of the nineteenth century. If you take for example
the Romanza of the G minor piano sonata there is a lovingly
weighted and amorous lightness about the music. This is followed
by the galloping optimism of the Scherzo and the sanguine
Brahmsian exuberance of the Rondo Allegrissimo. The
G minor sonata was never published but a manuscript was discovered
by Martin Sturfält in the form of a handwritten copy from
1940. He then prepared a corrected performing edition and
this is what we hear now.
forward to the Sensommarnätter we hear that Stenhammar
has found Brahmsian gravitas as well as a limpid free-wheeling
nimbus of lyricism. The five nights require great dexterity
as well as a nicely judged sensitivity to romantic atmosphere.
That can be felt at its peak in the Presto agitato.
More directly-spoken and even folksy is the final Poco
allegretto. Running to approximately the same timing
as the Op. 33 sequence, the three Fantasies include a playful
Brahmsian Dolce scherzando. In the final Fantasy there
are broad presentiments of Rachmaninov alongside a more dainty
fluid romantic ethos of this music is fluently put across
by Martin Sturfält who also wrote the liner-notes. He reminds
us that after 1907 Stenhammar largely abandoned his own instrument
except as an executant. There then followed a decade or so
in which the quartets and his magnum opus the Second Symphony
were written. Tragically physical and mental ill health then
took hold and sapped his urge to write. In this music and
in these vivacious and ursine performances there is no sign
of anything other than a victorious command and a heart-direct
in G-minor (1890) [22:08]
vivace e passionate [9:08]
Andante, quasi adagio [4:24]
Allegro molto [2:58]
of Late Summer (Sensommarnätter) Op. 33 (1914) [15:55]
e soave [4:30]
Non troppo lento [2:56]
Fantasies Op. 11 (1895) [14:59]
in A-flat major Op.12 (1896) [23:01]
quasi andante [6:09]
e mesto [2:12]
4) Allegro [7:17]
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