Joachim Nikolas EGGERT (1779-1813)
Mohrene i Spanien (The Moors in Spain) – Incidental music: Overture (1807?) [2:38]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (1807) [21:07]
Svante Sture – Incidental music (1812) [14:15]
Symphony No. 1 in C major (c.1804-05) [28:09]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Gérard Korsten
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden, 23-27 November 2009 (Symphonies); 10-14 March 2014 (Mohrene i Spanien and Svante Sture)
NAXOS 8.572457 [66:20]

Listeners and reviewers can be forgiven for not having heard of Joachim Nikolas Eggert. The present CD is the only one listed in the current Arkiv catalogue. There are no other Eggert releases reviewed in The Gramophone. World Cat adds a fugitive digital recording of the C minor String Quartet. An undated performance of the Symphony No. 4 has been uploaded to YouTube. That is about it. The literary resources are little better. The current edition of Grove disposes of his career in two paragraphs with only five further biographical entries. There are a few online references in Swedish and German for people comfortable in those languages. The present liner-notes give the listener sufficient biographical and musical analysis to allow appreciation of this fine disc from Naxos.

A few notes about the composer will be helpful. Joachim Nikolas Eggert was born in the town of Gingst on the beautiful German Baltic island of Rügen on 22 February 1779. Aged eleven, he began study of the organ, the violin and musical theory. In 1802 he held the appointment of director of music at the court theatre of the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Eggert was minded to seek his fortune in Russia, however this did not come to fruition due to a serious illness. He settled in Stockholm, Sweden in 1803 where he was duly appointed violinist in the Royal Orchestra (1803-08) during which time he was commissioned to write music for state occasions. Later he was acting ‘kapellmästare’ from 1808 to 1812.

Amongst Eggert’s achievements were presenting the first performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in Sweden, introducing the music of Beethoven to a Swedish audience and producing a collection of folksongs from the province of Östergotlands.

Eggert’s compositions include two dramas, five symphonies, (the fifth left unfinished at the composer’s death), ten string quartets, a sextet each for strings and woodwind as well as a deal of vocal music.

Eggert died in the village of Thomestorp near Linköping, Östergotlands (East Gotland) on 14 April 1813, aged just 34. He is usually regarded as a Swedish, rather than a German, composer, in spite of only spending ten years of his life there.

Four works are presented here; the two symphonies form the major portion. I was struck by one reviewer’s comment that much of this music sounds like ‘Happy Beethoven’ (David Denton, October 2015). It was my first thought on listening to this music. Other stylistic markers include Mozart and Haydn.

The CD opens with the short, effervescent overture to The Moors in Spain. This was one of a group of ‘incidental’ pieces composed for a comedy by Märten Altén, based on a French original. The music nods towards Weber and even Rossini in its vivacity and delight.

The music for Granberg’s nationalist play, Svante Sture, based on the life and madness of the sixteenth century King Erik, is occasionally a little more melancholy. The opening march has a steady tread with some worthy woodwind writing. A delightful bassoon solo is featured in the first entr’acte which, as the liner-notes suggest ‘becomes almost a concerto movement’. The following Mozartean postlude is a short headlong romp. The regal theme of the play is reinforced with the second entr’acte which is a bit of ‘pomp and circumstance’, with drums and brass to the fore. A darker march written in a positively Beethovenian manner acts as a prelude to Act 3. Yet another march, with a chorale, is somewhat sinister. A lighter mood is restored with the final two entr’actes. The notes judge the ‘pre-Brahmsian sentimentality’ of the first well, and the concluding number brings the suite to a triumphant conclusion.

I guess that few listeners will be concerned with the text and matter of the original play. It is sufficient to have these eight enjoyable miniatures: they make a satisfying suite.

I enjoyed Eggert’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, in spite of critical opinion suggesting that the work is uneven. Bertil van Boer points out that the finale and the march-like second movement were ‘adapted’ from his ‘Funeral Music for Duke Adolph Frederik’ (1805). He is not the first composer to reuse material in this manner and I do not find it a problem. Nevertheless, van Boer clearly feels that there is a touch of cut and paste about this symphony leading to be ‘a bit of a pastiche, rather than a cohesive whole’.

There are three movements in the Symphony with the first being nearly twice as long as the last two combined. It opens with a standard sonata form prefaced by an ‘adagio maestoso’. This short introduction leads into an exciting and varied ‘allegro spiritoso’. The second movement is the march which is suitably solemn, reflecting its original derivation. There are some dramatic and even sinister moments in this excellent ‘grave’. The finale opens with an ‘initial announcement’ on the trombones, before the fugue takes over. The work concludes quietly.

The Symphony No.3 was composed around 1806-07 and was premiered in Stockholm in the May of the ‘latter year’. The work is noted for having made use of three independent trombones. It predates Beethoven’s Fifth which is usually declared to be the first work in which trombones were used. Yet, apparently the Hovkapell orchestra had had these instruments on their books since 1790.

I believe that this piece ‘works’ as a symphony: there is much to impress the listener, and the final ‘strict and powerful’ fugue is certainly a triumph.

The Symphony in C major is a masterpiece. Everything about it seems to have been judged aright. There are no issues of balance or unevenness. The liner-notes suggest that this was the first major work from Eggert’s pen after arriving in Stockholm in 1803.

The opening movement is very beautiful with some prophetic nods towards Schubert. He is not afraid to be adventurous with the key schemes of this sonata-form, modulating to remote keys in similar manner to Beethoven. Bertil van Boer points out that the lovely slow movement, a theme and set of variations, has all the grace of one of Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphonies. It has near-perfect classical poise. The following minuet and trio, written in C minor, is a sheer delight, with definite nods to Mozart and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is certainly a candidate for excerpting on Classic FM …

The last movement, a Fugue ‘allegro vivace’ is based on a Swedish folksong: ‘Gustafs Skäl’ (Gustaf’s Land). It is a tour de force of brilliant development and superb orchestration. This music is exciting, dynamic and downright entertaining. I even heard hints of Johann Strauss’s Perpetuum Mobile in these pages. The fugal passages bring a little more seriousness to the finale, but all this is blown away by a rumbustious coda.

As noted above the notes are ideal, giving a great introduction to the life and works of this largely unknown composer. The sound quality is excellent. The playing is well-judged, classily and enthusiastically played by the Gävle Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Gérard Korsten. A short note on the Naxos website quotes Einar Ander, the orchestra’s production manager as saying ‘Our interest in Eggert was raised since he is a quite unknown Swedish composer whose music is seldom played and has never been recorded.’

This amounts to a wholly successful project that demands to be continued with performances of the other two symphonies, assuming that performing editions are available.

John France

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