Joachim Nikolas EGGERT (1779 – 1813)
Symphony No. 4 in C minor (c. 1810) [29:23]
Alternative Second Movement to Symphony No. 4: Largo [4:26]
Symphony No. 2 in G minor (1806) [31:23]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Gérard Korsten
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden, 10–14 March 2014
World premiere recordings NAXOS 8.573378 [65:26]
In his book Den svenska symfonin (The Swedish Symphony), AWE/Gebers, Stockholm 1983 (available only in Swedish), Lennart Hedwall writes: “Eggert must have been for his time uncommonly well orientated in the continental musical currents. In Sweden he conducted, besides Mozart, among other things early Beethoven symphonies and Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, and he builds his very personal early romantic style on experiences from the Vienna classicist masters, including Gluck, whom he is said to have admired a lot. The independent attitude of a Beethoven he doesn’t attain, but he has left most of the post-classicists far behind. His works should be a natural ingredient also in the international repertoire by the side of excellent but now sadly neglected symphonists like Cherubini, Clementi, Gossec or Méhul. In our music history Eggert belongs among the indispensable.”
These are strong words indeed about a composer who died aged 34 and whose works have been largely forgotten. Three years ago we decided to programme one of his symphonies with our local symphony orchestra, an able group of advanced amateurs and professionals. We chose the one in C major, which arguably dates from around 1807. This work was included in the previous Eggert issue, which was enthusiastically reviewed by my colleague John France some months ago. Some background information about the composer is also given there. John declared that the C major is a masterpiece and I wholeheartedly agree with him. It is probably the most well-constructed of the four. He had begun a fifth but died while working on the first movement. Hedwall writes that what is preserved of the movement indicates that this D minor work would have been just as dramatic as the ones in C minor and G minor.
There is a tragic atmosphere about the low opening of the first movement of the C minor symphony, and that atmosphere persists also in the following allegro assai. It is powerful, dramatic and has a colossal intensity. The slow movement' pastoral opening is interrupted by the bass drum which breaks the idyll like a cannon-shot. The warlike music that follows may have been inspired by the disastrous war that had been going on between Sweden and Russia and which led to Sweden losing Finland. One can hear the troops vanishing and we are back in the idyll of the opening with mild woodwind sonorities – but not for long. The military theme returns, but now it dances. Then there is interplay between the idyllic and the warlike until a sudden fanfare, and one more, and a third. Then the cavalry charges and finally we are back where it all began. This is a quite fascinating movement in its unpredictability. The minuet is also rather warlike but with a mild woodwind-dominated trio. The finale opens with an urgent signal that is repeated twice and then a whirling movement follows which is rather agitated. The signal appears several times – war isn’t over yet – and then comes a final powerful full stop.
The alternative slow movement opens with a horn melody and then follows what is arguably the most forward-looking music Eggert wrote. Harmonically he is sometimes close to Wagner who at that time had yet to be born.
The G minor symphony was probably written in 1806 — before the wars — and it is undoubtedly more peaceful but far from indifferent. The adagio opening is beautiful, but a drum-roll announces the allegro con brio, which is dramatically virile. The slow movement has a lovely melody and a deliciously transparent orchestration. A restrained minuet follows with a trio section that is more aggressive, dominated by brass and woodwind. The finale is charmingly Mendelssohnian – he wasn’t born either – and overall this is idyllic music but with some darker sonorities. It is in G minor after all. Towards the end Eggert builds up a dramatic conclusion, where we can glimpse Schubert. He may not have been a barnstormer but he had visions and it is our great loss that he wasn't allowed to live longer. When he passed away he was about the same age as Beethoven was when he composed the Eroica.
We have to be grateful for what he managed to accomplish, and for the excellent work Gérard Korsten and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra have done on this disc and its companion. This also includes a splendid recording in the beautiful acoustics of Gevaliasalen at Gävle Concert Hall. Let’s now have some of his string quartets; there are twelve plus some minor movements.