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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Excelsior! symphonic overture, Op. 13 (1896) [13:50]
Mellanspel ur Sången, Op. 44 (1921) [6:14]
Serenade in F major, Op. 31 (1914-1919) [37:16]
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Christian Lindberg
rec. March 2013, deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium
Hybrid SACD, stereo and multi-channel
Reviewed as a 24/96 download
BIS BIS-SACD-2058 [58:19]
Less than an hour’s playing time, I hear you cry; well yes,
but with eclassical’s per-second charging you only pay for what
you get. In this case $8.74 (£5.21) or if you take advantage
of this particular deal you can also download the 16-bit flacs of
Neeme Järvi’s 1986 recording of the First Symphony for
a mere $5.52 (£3.29). These limited offers are a sign of major
changes in the way music is bought and sold; indeed, as much as I
prefer the physical product I find myself attracted more and more
by the simplicity and convenience of downloads. I’ve long since
run out of shelf space for discs, so I welcome the fact that all my
downloads – more than a hundred at the last count – fit
comfortably on a portable hard drive the size of a paperback.
Admittedly 58 minutes or less of music on a silver disc is more of a problem, which is why BIS chose to release Thomas Adés’s Violin Concerto and Couperin Studies – all 34 minutes of it - as a download only (review). All of which makes me certain that downloading as a means of delivering reasonably priced, high-res music makes sense for labels and listeners alike. That said, far too many sites charge silly sums for their downloads – in some cases more than the equivalent disc – so they will need to re-jig their business model if they want to succeed in this rapidly changing business.
Now back to the music. Swedish trombonist and conductor Christian Lindberg continues to impress in both roles; most recently I’ve enjoyed hearing him as a soloist in this irreverent programme (review) and as an equally talented baton-waver in Allan Pettersson’s powerful Ninth Symphony (review). He gets off to a rousing start here with Stenhammar’s splendid Excelsior!, premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic no less. Lindberg gives the overture plenty of surge and space and the BIS engineers respond with sonics to match. This may not efface memories of Järvi’s more urgent and visceral account (also on BIS) but it’s much better recorded.
One might expect Lindberg’s Flemish orchestra to trail Jarvi’s
mighty Gothenburgers - the latter recorded live – but their
ringing horns and impassioned strings are superb; that’s especially
so in the overture’s imposing climaxes. Even in the solemn environs
of the interlude from Sången, the cantata Stenhammar
wrote to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Swedish
Academy of Music, the RFP play with a quiet unanimity and gravitas
that engages and delights. Perhaps we can now look forward to a BIS
recording of the complete cantata to complement the Caprice version
recorded in the 1980s.
The most substantial work here is the five-movement Serenade,
which Stenhammar withdrew ‘for revision’ after its premiere
in 1914. Brimming with gentle charm and suffused with radiant harmonies
it’s a pearl of a piece. After a restrained Overture
the soft-pulsing Canzonetta is genuinely ear-pricking. Lindberg
paces it all so well and the orchestra respond with playing of great
subtlety and feeling. Timbres are true and this recording gives the
music a rich inner glow that’s hugely satisfying. As for the
Scherzo – Presto it's light on its feet and the atmospherically
placed brass bring real frisson to the mix.
The Serenade is such civilised music, so fresh and spontaneous,
and I doubt you’ll hear a lovelier, more sun-dappled account
than this. Tipping into night Lindberg gives us an evanescent reading
of the Notturno; it’s delivered with astonishing finesse
and, where necessary, silk-spun ardour. Sensitively shaped and dynamically
sophisticated this version of the Serenade surely trumps
all others; the recording is class-leading too. Nowhere is that clearer
than in the tumbling detail and animation of the Finale.
What a refined and responsive band this is, and how splendid Antwerp’s
deSingel concert hall. Like the Liège orchestra that enchanted
me in Respighi (review)
this is an ensemble whose polished playing belies its lower rank.
And after a few disappointing recordings I’m happy to say BIS
have more than made amends with this one. Very detailed liner-notes
– downloadable - complete a luscious package.
At last, Stenhammar gets the fine performances he deserves; first-rate sound, too.