Bernard ZWEERS (1854-1924)
Symphony No. 3 Aan mijn vaderland (1886-1890) [63:04]
Het Residentie Orkest, Den Haag/Hans Vonk
rec. 24-26 August 1977, Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague. ADD
STERLING CDS-1088-2 [63.04]

Bernard ZWEERS (1854-1924)
Concert Overture Saskia (1906) [7:32]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1882-1883) [32:05]
Suite for the incidental music for Vodel's Gijsbrech van Aemstel (1892) [17:48]
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland/Lukas Vis (suite); Jean Fournet (overture)
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit (symphony)
rec. AVRO Klassiek 12 May 1973 AAD (overture); NPS Radio, 19-21 June 2001 DDD (symphony); VPRO Radio, 11 September 1980, AAD (1748). DDD
STERLING CDS-1061-2 [57.26]

This most recent Sterling release (CDS-1088-2) brings back into circulation a recording of the Dutch composer, Zweers’ Third Symphony. It dates from the vinyl heartland of 1977 and will be familiar to specialists of the Dutch national repertoire. It last appeared in 1993 when it formed volume 4 of Olympia’s 400 Years of Dutch Music series (OCD503). The now halted Chandos Dutch series never picked up on Zweers so Sterling’s three Zweers symphony discs make an ideal complement alongside the very different works of Verhulst, Hol, Dopper, Voormolen and Vermeulen.

The Zweers is a symphony of Brucknerian length across four graphically titled movements. These are: I In the Dutch forests; II In the country; III On the beach and at sea; IV To the capital. In this work Zweers has come a long way from the heavily Germanic orientation of the first two symphonies. He now deploys a brilliant palette of poetic ideas and colouristic devices. There’s more than a dash of passionate Tchaikovsky here, a flurry of Rimsky there. The effect sometimes recalls Louis Glass’s much later Fifth Symphony and the colouristic tone poems of Glazunov (The Sea and The Forest) and Ludolf Nielsen. There’s some simply glorious writing for the brass and the last movement harbours plenty of glowing examples which also give off a pleasingly grating bite. I had wondered if it would be all rather suite-like but there is a symphonic steel to Zweers’ writing which makes this more than a merely well-crafted pictorial indulgence. This is a symphony of lavish duration but of well conceived and executed ideas deployed within their span for potential pleasure and no further.

It all works well and is aided by a close-up Decca-style recording that unflinchingly plays all the orchestral details in the listener’s lap. It’s a very agreeable effect and not at all claustrophobic. There is the odd tape blip and faltering blemish - unsurprising in an iron-oxide tape getting on for 35 years old - truth to tell I noticed only one of each and those in the first movement.

This will appeal to those who love their nationalist programme symphonies with a Tchaikovskian accent.

NOTE: I am also including here a now-completed review of the Second Symphony disc from Sterling which I had shelved part-written when two other reviews of that CD were submitted.

With this disc of radio-sourced tapes of widely varying vintage Sterling launch their Dutch Romantics series. It partners Bo Hyttner's German, Swiss and Danish Romantics series.

Zweers was active as a teacher until 1922. His pupils included Daniel Ruyneman, Bernard van den Sigtenhorst Meyer, Willem Landré, Sem Dresden, Anthon van der Horst and Hendrik Andriessen.

The overture boils with quiet and heart-warming confidence. It radiates a glowing warmth derived perhaps from Brahms Second Symphony with a satisfying blush borrowed from Richard Strauss. This is not a work of busy bustle nor of dramatic gesture.

The Second Symphony is less well known than the Third Symphony entitled To My Fatherland (Aan mijn vaderland).

Brawling and biting brass distinguish the first movement of the Second Symphony. There’s an infusion of Schumann and Brahms in the fabric (4.19 tr. 2). At 6:03 there’s a passage that is playfully Beethovenian - redolent of symphonies 5 and 7. If the brass affirmatives tends to crush the breath out of the music there is no doubting its bull-in-a-china-shop triumphalism at the end of the first and last movements. The second movement is an Andante with a lacy Delibes-like orchestration. It’s not at all impressionistic. The sturdy regal quality of this work is definitely 19th century in feel and squarely within the access established by Brahms (symphony 4) and Schumann (symphony 2). In the movement there are some moments of great and jovial buoyancy.

The Van Aemstel music is in five predominantly earnest - even grim - movements across almost eighteen minutes. The first has considerable symphonic gravitas with emotional turmoil in evidence. The Brahms First Piano Concerto may be a model - at least in mood. The Dies Irae runs through tr.10 even sporting echoes of early Sibelius: Kullervo and First Symphony.

Rob Barnett 

see also reviews of Symphony 2 (CDS10612) by Guy Rickards and Ian Lace and of Symphony 1 (CDS10682) by Rob Barnett