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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 Gijsbrecht 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 Sept 1980, AAD (1748). DDD
STERLING CDS1061-2 [57.26]

With no fewer than three reviews of this disc on-site over the years, I think I can safely refer you elsewhere for matters biographical and get down to something akin to a bullet-point review of Sterling’s disc that features Bernard Zweers’s Symphony No.2 and two attractive satellite works.

The Symphony dates from 1882-83 and is a most attractive example of Rhenish vitality, the work being strongly redolent of the influence of Schumann. It’s his sense of characteristic rhythmic lift that courses through the veins of Zweers’ work, illuminated by some deft wind pointing, good orchestration, and attractive themes albeit – in the opening movement at least – a touch prolix. The slow movement is oddly elfin, almost winsome in places – indeed somewhat balletic - though there are sterner paragraphs with hints of chorale breadth. No deep emotions are plumbed but the music has sufficient gravity. Gutsy and brassy, the Allegretto offers a more resilient sense of characterisation whilst the finale, heard in its revised version, returns to the confident opening movement and once more embraces Schumannesque symphonic verities. The fugato feint promises an academic detour though fortunately it’s brief. But overall this is an attractive symphony with lucid development and apt colour.

Saskia is a much later work, a concert overture dating from 1906. There’s stormy turbulence counterpointed with splendid wind and horn writing in the form of a Marian hymn. The third and last of the pieces is the Suite for the incidental music for Vodel’s Gijsbrecht van Aemstel. There are five relatively brief movements in the suite but Zweers manages to invest the music with a particularly strong sense of colour, incident and narrative characterisation. The opening movement has great noble gravity, whilst the second has an equine rhythm, full of careering vitality. The central panel is pure charm – one almost thinks of early Fauré and his incidental music – whilst the penultimate panel’s lower brass writing is compellingly deployed. The sinewy strength of the finale shows how Zweers responded so well to acts of compression. It drew from him in many ways a more perceptive and certainly compact distillation of his talents. I’d start here if you come afresh to this Zweers disc. Not that the Symphony is sub-standard; it’s not, it’s just that the suite shows Zweers at something like his compositional best.

The recordings come from a disparate number of sessions. By far the earliest is Jean Fournet’s 1973 AVRO recordings of Saskia and then comes the suite, conducted by Lucas Vis in 1980 and courtesy of VPRO Radio. The Symphony is heard in the most up-to-date sound, via NPS Radio in 2001, and in the safest of hands in Antoni Wit.

Excellent notes support this intriguing and most worthwhile release.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Guy Rickards ~ Ian Lace ~ Rob Barnett



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