Britta BYSTRÖM (b. 1977)
Invisible Cities
Picnic at Hanging Rock [20:33]
A Walk after Dark [23:42]
Invisible Cities [22:24]
Ellen Nisbeth (viola)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Blendulf, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Blendulf
rec. Malmö Concert Hall; Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, 2013/14
DAPHNE 1046 [67:01]
Britta Byström, now in her mid-thirties, has since the turn of the millennium chiselled out a very distinctive niche in the music life of Sweden and beyond. Her compositions have been played quite extensively in Sweden and also internationally. Although she has written music in most genres it is her orchestral works that have reached the widest audiences and it seems that the orchestra that has become her instrument. She is quoted in the liner-notes as saying that her work Barcarole (2000) was the first one in which she experienced the orchestra as an instrument obeying her wishes. This is a fact that has been observed by others as well, including my colleague on MusicWeb International, Hubert Culot, who wrote in a review of an earlier recording “…Britta Byström has a real orchestral flair and has succeeded in creating a sound-world all of her own." Her credo is expressed on her website: “I try to create poetic and beautiful music, which can tempt the listener into an aesthetic experience.” She also talks about “… a certain kind of orchestral virtuosity that fascinates me … the sort of thing you find in Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss.” Those two composers may not be a natural coupling. After all, one is impressionist while the other is rather the opposite. Add to this that Strauss’s music, for all its professionalism and virtuosity, is not always in the utmost of good taste. That said, both composers were musical narrators and that is certainly an element that Britta Byström shares with them.

All three works on this disc has a story to tell. Picnic at Hanging Rock was inspired by Peter Weir’s 1975 film of the same name, which was based on a novel by Joan Lindsay. It is about a party of schoolgirls on an outing to Hanging Rock in Australia. Three of the girls disappear without a trace. Did they disappear into the rock? The composition opens like an explosion. There are some glissandi and shimmering strings, high flutes but the music changes kaleidoscopically. A bell strikes, introducing a more agitated section with fast conversation. There is a part in 3/4-time where the music sails higher and higher and then relaxes with soft strings and woodwind. The next session is a kind of pasodoble with a crescendo taking us to a starry cosmic landscape - very beautiful and there it ends. The orchestra kind of disappears – like the girls. All that remains is a bird’s trill.

A Walk after Dark begins where the previous piece finishes. Soon, when the viola soloist enters, it becomes more lively. There is little bravura in the solo part – instead Byström explores the instrument’s warm singing, and Ellen Nisbeth’s big round tone is certainly something to admire. True, there is also some technical wizardry in the fast central section but she soon returns to the singing, late-romantic atmosphere. A Walk after Dark is dedicated to the memory of Anders Eliasson (1947–2013) who died while Byström was working on this composition. She once studied with him and she quotes his first symphony as further homage to one of the greatest Swedish composer of recent years. This is a worthy tribute to him: heartfelt and very beautiful.

Again Invisible Cities has a literary background: Italo Calvino’s Le cittā invisibili from 1972. In Calvino's novel Marco Polo, who was Venetian, tells of his travels and the remarkable cities he has seen, but it turns out that what he describes all the time is his own city, Venice. The composition is, like the novel, divided in eleven parts with a piano figure taken from Lutoslawski’s Venetian Games as a leitmotif connecting the various parts. More easily recognisable is the Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann that pops in and out of the work. It is indeed a magical score, often light in texture and shimmering like the ever-present water in Venice. Quite often I hear dripping water in this piece. It's fascinating and highly accessible and should win many new admirers for Britta Byström’s music.

The orchestral playing throughout is utterly accomplished. The recordings are excellent. Also let me once more apostrophize Ellen Nisbeth’s magical playing. A winner in every respect.

Göran Forsling

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