Bo LINDE (1933–1970)
Sonatina for violin and piano, Op. 15, No. 2 (1955) [10:24]
Hilding ROSENBERG (1892–1985)
Suite for violin and piano in D major, Op. 13 (1922) [14:55]
Allan PETTERSSON (1911–1980)
Elegia No. I. Andantino (1934) [1:34]
Elegia No. II (1934) [1:31]
Romanza (1942) [2:38]
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867–1942)
Slummersång (Slumber Song) (1896) [4:18]
Yngve SKÖLD (1899–1992)
Emil SJÖGREN (1853–1918)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor, Op. 19 (1886) [18:49]
Lille Bror SÖDERLUNDH (1912–1957)
Canzonetta (1949) [3:25]
Karl-Ove Mannberg (violin), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
rec. 6-9 January, 15-17 November 2005 and 6 May 2006 at Kristinehallen,
ACOUSTICA ACCD-1019 [61:45]
Karl-Ove Mannberg has been one of the foremost violinists in Sweden for several decades. Starting as a child prodigy he became inspired in his early teens by the Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen and played a lot of jazz and dance music. After studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm he spent a period in the Swedish Radio Orchestra, whose chief conductor was Celibidache. From 1967 he was leader of Gävleborg Symphony Orchestra (today Gävle SO) and then he moved to Gothenburg in the same position and from 1978 he was leader of the Seattle Symphony orchestra. From the beginning of the 1980s he has been a free-lance musician and also worked as a teacher. He is accompanied here by Bengt Forsberg, who is probably best known as the accompanist of Anne Sofie von Otter but he also has a busy career as soloist and chamber musician.
The programme on this disc offers music by Swedish composers from the late part of the 19th century up to the mid-20th century – some of them are fairly well known names also internationally, while Linde, Sköld and Söderlundh may be more obscure – Sköld not too familiar even to Swedish listeners, I am afraid.
Bo Linde, the youngest of them, also was the one who died youngest – he didn’t live much longer than Mozart. He was born in Gävle, where his music has been performed fairly regularly, studied with Lars-Erik Larsson, who unfortunately wasn’t held in high esteem by the musical avant-garde in the 1950s and thus Linde was also over-looked, since he refused to follow the Darmstadt trend and wrote approachable music within a very personal idiom: chamber music, piano works (he was himself a fine pianist), songs and orchestral music. His violin concerto must be counted among the best Swedish works in this genre. Naxos recently released a recording, coupled with the cello concerto, with the Gävle Symphony Orchestra (review), but it had been recorded twice before: in the 1970s with the same orchestra and with Karl-Ove Mannberg as soloist (Swedish EMI) and in the 1990s on BIS with Ulf Wallin as soloist. Wallin has also recorded a CD with Linde’s complete output of violin music, also on BIS, so there are ample opportunities to compare the two musicians. In reality there is little to choose between them in the sonatina. The only notable difference is the slow movement, marked Largo, where I believe Mannberg is closer to the mark. Wallin at a much more measured tempo has the same intensity but the music feels more ‘chopped up’ - there is a more natural flow in Mannberg’s reading. And of course the melody, built in one long arc, is ravishing. The whole sonatina is a pleasure from beginning to end with the second movement, Scherzando vivo, that fizzes by, elegantly and with a streak of burlesque and the finale is an ecstatic swinger, fresh as paint.
Hilding Rosenberg has some claims to be the first Swedish modernist. He belonged to the same generation as Gösta Nystroem but went, generally speaking, a step further. His first string quartet, premiered in March 1923, was, in the words of Herbert Connor in Svensk musik vol 2 (1977), “a terrible shock for the conservative music critics with Peterson-Berger at the head.” P-B’s review has become infamous with invectives like ‘mental disorder’, ‘torture’, ‘sadism’, ‘impotence’ and the often quoted “four escaped ‘mental patients’, who with ardour and stylistic fidelity render a fifth’s barbaric night-dazed fantasies …” Nobody needs to be frightened away from the Suite for violin and piano, premiered, incidentally, only a couple of weeks before the first string quartet. It has five short movements with descriptive titles and rather verges on the drawing-room. The second movement, a waltz, even has some schmaltzy double-stops à la Kreisler. The third movement is a beautiful, melancholy Melodi and the last one is a twittering and jubilant Humoresk. Not particularly ‘deep’ music but violinistically grateful and entertaining for the listener.
Allan Pettersson, regarded as one of the greatest Swedish symphonists found his style rather late in life and the three miniatures recorded here are very beautiful but rather harking back to the 19th century. The Romanza, composed almost a decade later than the two Elegia, is harmonically somewhat bolder and the piano part leads a more active and independent life.
As a music critic Wilhelm Peterson-Berger was often gruff and relentless; as a composer his most well-known works are the genial and idyllic piano pieces Frösöblomster and quite a number of successful songs, many of them settings of Nobel Prize winning poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt. The Slumber Song, which is the third movement of his Suite for Violin and Piano, was composed in 1896, the same year that the first book of Frösöblomster was published, and is a national romantic beautiful song without words.
That Yngve Sköld never made himself much of a name as composer has two reasons: firstly he was a reticent character who felt reluctant to ‘elbow his way through life’ as Stig Jacobsson neatly puts it in his liner notes; secondly his symphonies and concertos, though excellently crafted, were in a tonal language that was out of fashion when they were written. He spent 25 years as librarian at the Association of Swedish Composers, championing the works of his composer colleagues but himself being largely forgotten. That he knew his craft is easy to understand when listening to the well constructed Melodi on this disc.
Bo Linde’s Sonatina is an important work in Swedish violin literature but the greatest composer of violin sonatas is undoubtedly Emil Sjögren, the oldest composer represented on this disc. He wrote five sonatas in all and there are several complete sets available on CD. Karl-Ove Mannberg has chosen the first sonata, begun in 1883 but not completed until three years later. From the beginning one senses that this a composer who knows what he wants and who sees the violin sonata as an interplay between two equal partners. It is like hearing a spirited conversation where the participants listen attentively and add their own observations, keeping the discussion constantly on the move. The music isn’t particularly Swedish, not even Nordic, in character; Sjögren got his influences from France whereas in the 19th century most Scandinavians were inspired by German music and German culture at large. The Andante is beautiful, calm and balanced – a noble melody. No wonder Franz Liszt uttered a ‘sehr schön’ when he played it through. He might also have liked the turbulent piano part of the finale. Sjögren was a pianist and organist but hardly in the Lisztian virtuoso class and his wasn’t a showy or dramatic temperament – he is prone to linger lovingly over a lyrical phrase but there is no lack of power and intensity in his music. By the side of Grieg’s three sonatas Sjögren’s are possibly the best Nordic compositions in this genre.
The concluding number was composed by an ‘odd man out’ on the musical scene, like Bo Linde if you like, and like Linde he also left this world far too early. Lille Bror Söderlundh was born in the province of Värmland in western Sweden but arrived in Stockholm in the 1930s where he was bandleader and composer, most notably of songs which he often performed with his high almost androgynous voice to guitar accompaniment, many of them settings of poems by another värmlänning (person from Värmland), Nils Ferlin who has always been one of the most loved Swedish poets. He later moved to the province of Dalecarlia where he spent the last years of his life as headmaster of the Music School of Borlänge, the town where Jussi Björling was born. He had ambitions to be a ‘real’ composer and wrote a lot of highly personal and deeply satisfying works, among them a Bartók influenced violin concerto, that together with Bo Linde’s almost contemporaneous concerto, is among the best in the genre of a Swedish post-war composer. The Canzonetta belongs in quite another world, a delicious lyrical miniature with some Kreisler touches. The publisher, to whom Lille Bror sent his composition, had a different opinion: ‘old-fashioned, but the suffocating tone perfume might possibly blend with the scents of spirits and tobacco in a restaurant …’. I for one have always liked it since I first heard it about ten years ago. Then it was in an arrangement for violin and string orchestra by Bengt Hallberg and played by Karl-Ove Mannberg with the Dalecarlian Chamber Orchestra. Readers whose appetite has been wetted can find it on Bluebell ABCD 3007. Mannberg plays it just as deliciously in both versions.
Karl-Ove Mannberg has always been the aristocrat among violinists and noble phrasing lightness of touch is always in evidence throughout this recital while Bengt Forsberg is as sensitive and reliable as ever.
Nothing on the disc is international standard fare but both Linde and Sjögren should be and the rest of the music is eminently listenable though hardly epoch-making. The recording, which must have been one of Mats Hellberg’s last efforts – he died little more than four months after the last session – is excellently balanced.