Ruben LILJEFORS (1871-1936)
Piano Concerto in F minor, op. 5 (1899) [23:20]
Symphony in E flat major, op. 14 (1906) [30:30]
Irène Mannheimer (piano)
Gävleborg Symphony Orchestra/Mats Liljefors
rec. May/June 1995, Concert Hall, Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm
STERLING CDS1017-2 [53:50]
Recently, I reviewed a Sterling recording of a concerto
and symphony by the little-known Swedish composer, Josef Sillén, and
concluded that the music, while pleasant enough, was very derivative
Here we have another such composer, and music that certainly bears resemblance
to better known works. However, I feel that this is a better proposition.
Some biographical information to begin with. Liljefors was born in Uppsala
into an artistic family; his older brother Bruno became a well-known
painter specialising in nature subjects. Ruben studied in Sweden, graduating
in Stockholm as an organist, and then moved to Germany to work with
Salomon Jadassohn, Felix Draeseke and Max Reger. He spent much of his
conducting career in Sweden working with choirs, but he did help establish
the orchestra in Gävle, serving as its artistic director for twenty
years, until deafness made it impossible to continue.
The spirit of Grieg underlies the concerto, especially its first two
movements. What was odd is that I heard echoes of Rachmaninov in the
final movement, but this seems unlikely as the concerto was written
before his music was likely to have made it beyond the Russian borders.
It is suggested that this is a concerto obviously written by a pianist,
but it didn’t strike me as especially virtuosic; in fact, I found
the orchestral contributions to be more interesting than the piano part.
The booklet quotes Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, composer and critic, who
wrote that the concerto was a “deeply serious-minded imitation
of the deeply serious”. That is a little unfair, as it does have
The symphony was premiered together with the Third Symphony of Hugo
Alfvén, which received much of the attention; it isn’t difficult
to see why. While the two are almost exact contemporaries, Alfvén’s
reputation was already established, and he had already honed his symphonic
skills. His would have stood out as a much more accomplished work, and
the light-hearted, sunny mood of the Liljefors would have made it seem
even less substantial. It is not as obviously influenced by others as
the concerto. It certainly doesn’t sound like Brahms, Mahler or
Wagner; the booklet mentions Svendsen. It has a freshness that is enjoyable,
though I doubt you will leave it whistling any of the melodies.
The performances are perfectly adequate, but are not helped by a somewhat
recessed and undefined sound. It is disappointing that one other piece,
for example one of his overtures, wasn’t included in the recording
session to fill out the CD rather better. The notes spend the majority
of the page and a half on biographical information, which is appreciated,
but very little on the music itself. For your information, the conductor
is the composer’s grandson.
Apparently, Liljefors’ conducting career meant that he had little
time for composing, which is a shame as these two works do show a degree
of promise, especially the symphony.