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Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758)
The Swedish Virtuoso
Sinfonia in D Minor, BeRI 27 [7:08]
Partita in C Minor, BeRI 8 [9:15]
Violin Concerto / Partita in F Minor, BeRI 52 [10:00]
Flute Concerto in G Major [10:21]
Trio Sonata in G Minor, BeRI 113 [9:36]
Sinfonia in E Minor, BeRI 22 [8:40]
The Drottningholm Music, BeRI 2 I. Allegro [2:35]
Maria Lindal (violin) (concerto), Mats Klingfors (flute)(concerto)
REBaroque/Maria Lindal
rec. Sveriges Radio, Studio 12, Stockholm, Sweden, January 2008
PROPRIUS PRCD2044 [57:47]
Experience Classicsonline

‘The Father of Swedish Music’ was an epithet attached to Johan Helmich Roman rather early on. It may not literally be true but he is without doubt the first Swedish composer of some importance. His music can be favourably compared with that of many of his international contemporaries. Not that there is anything characteristically Swedish about his music. Hugo Alfvén stated that the soubriquet should instead be transferred to August Söderman, who in the mid-19th century was the first to create a musical language based on or inspired by the national folk music. Even so, with some accuracy one can say that Roman was the first to put Sweden on the musical map.

He was born in Stockholm, son of a member of the Royal Court orchestra, and showed exceptional musical talent at an early age. He is said to have appeared before the Court at the age of seven. When he was seventeen, in 1711, he became a member of the Court Orchestra, his principal instruments being violin and oboe. In 1712 he was given permission by King Karl XII to go abroad and ‘perfectionate in musique’, which he did in England. There he stayed, presumably between 1715 and 1721. He met Ariosti, Bononcini, Geminiani, Handel and Pepusch. Whether he studied with Handel is not confirmed but he seems to have played in Handel’s opera orchestra at King’s Theatre and was clearly influenced by him. He has also been called ‘The Swedish Handel’.

On his return to Sweden he was appointed Deputy Master of the King’s Music and later Principal Master. Under his aegis the standard of the orchestra was vastly improved. He broadened the repertoire through his international contacts and in 1731 started the first public concert activities in Stockholm.

A second journey abroad, begun in 1735, took him back to England and then via Paris to Naples and Rome. On his way back home in 1737 he travelled via Bologna and Venice, Dresden, Vienna, Munich, Augsburg and Berlin.

He was held in great favour by the King, Fredrik I and his Queen Ulrica Eleonora, composing several cantatas for them. Upon the demise of the Queen in 1741 his fortunes changed and he felt he was being opposed, which in turn led to a deterioration in his health.

He composed the famous Drottningholm Music for the Royal Wedding in August 1744 but shortly afterwards left Stockholm and settled in the south of Sweden with his five children; both his wives had died very young.

He returned a couple of times to Stockholm, the last time in 1751 to compose the funeral music for King Fredrik and the coronation music for his successor Adolf Fredrik. In 1758 he passed away after a ‘long, serious illness’.

Roman was a prolific composer. Professor Ingmar Bengtsson’s catalogue of the composer’s complete oeuvre - the BeRI numbers in the header refer to this catalogue - has 360 entries. Some of these are admittedly uncertain - and as far as I have been able find this list doesn’t encompass his vocal music. Through his journeys Roman acquired a unique international outlook, which also influenced his compositional work. Besides Handel there are traces of Albinoni, Geminiani, Tartini and, in his vocal music, Marcello, Leo and Lotti. Living in a transitional period he also adopted stylistic features from the gallant style.

The present disc is a medley drawing on his diversification of styles. For listeners with no or little acquaintance with his music it should be a real eye-opener – ‘ear-opener’ is perhaps a more apposite term. Far from being a run-of-the-mill baroque composer, of which there were hundreds and hundreds, he emerges as someone to mention in the same breath as Handel. He has been held in high esteem in Sweden for decades, though relatively little of his oeuvre has been recorded. Maybe it’s time for him to step out of the shadows onto the international stage. Joseph Martin Kraus from the next generation – he was an exact contemporary of Mozart – has lately come to notice as a top-notch Classicist composer, not least thanks to Petter Sundkvist’s complete symphony cycle on Naxos. Kraus was German but he also spent periods in Sweden, so there is a parallel.

Not all the works here are guaranteed to be genuine Roman. The flute concerto has been ascribed to Ferdinand Zellbell Junior but is now believed to be Roman’s work. There is some confusion concerning the trio sonata in G Minor, which may or may not be by Johann Joachim Quantz. Neither of these doubts matter, since the music is so attractive. The undisputed works are all truly riveting. The Sinfonia in D Minor is lively, entertaining and dancing; the C Minor partita ends with a presto movement that is breathtaking. This is music and music-making that can’t leave anyone unmoved. In the violin concerto Vivaldi isn’t far away and the central larghetto is a serene, almost elegiac counterpoint to the vivid outer movements. Maria Lindal plays with ample tone and technical assurance. This also goes for the soloist in the flute concerto, Mats Klingfors, whom I had hitherto only met as a superb bassoon player.

The Sinfonia in E Minor is one of Roman’s best known works. It has a lovely larghetto for two flutes and a riveting final allegro. The ‘encore’, the opening allegro from the Drottningholm Music, is the one piece by Roman that every Swedish music-lover immediately recognises. It even exists in an arrangement for mixed choir with a latter-day text about queuing up. It is played here in a version that differs somewhat from the original since REBaroque didn’t have the prescribed musicians available, ‘so we took what we had’, say the liner-notes. ‘This was a very natural approach in Roman’s day’.

REBaroque was formed in 1998 and though based in Sweden are active internationally, on their own or with various soloists and conductors. Judging from this disc with its superlative recording – always a hallmark for Proprius who have always been at the sonic forefront – they have little to fear from comparison with other contemporary baroque ensembles. I was particularly impressed by their tremendous rhythmic drive.

In every respect this is a superb disc and it definitely whets the appetite for more Roman. Please, Proprius, take note!

Göran Forsling 




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