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Ludvig NORMAN (1831-1885)
Concert Piece for piano and orchestra Op.54 (1850-75-80) [14:48]
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)
Ballade for piano and orchestra (1909-37) [22:03]
Adolf WIKLUND (1879-1950)
Concert Piece for piano and orchestra Op.1 (1903) [18:39]
Maria Verbaite (piano)
Norrlandsoperan Symphony Orchestra/B Tommy Andersson
rec. 7-10 July 2011, Umea Concert Hall, Sweden
STERLING CDS 1095-2 [55:40]

This is a fresh-faced collection of Swedish pieces for piano and orchestra; not piano concertos. Novelty and explorer value are high even if the playing time is comparatively short; a pity that the Atterberg Rhapsody for piano and orchestra was not added. The disc's position would then have been pretty much unassailable.

As it is this is a music-lover's and collector's delight with each piece leaving you wanting more. It fills some gaps and provides a Scandinavian response to the piano concertante pieces by Schumann and Saint-Saëns. The Norman is clearly from the nineteenth century. This composer has already been the subject of Sterling's adventurous attitude (review review). Norman was an early achiever, having studied with his countryman Adolf Lindblad. He enlarged his horizons by spending time in Leipzig where, as is clear from this Concert Piece, he was more than impressed with Schumann. It's a very fluent and stormy piece of romantic-era writing. If you enjoy your Schumann for piano and orchestra then this should please and even delight. I should add that there's also a strand here that seems to echo the more euphonious and smiling side of Brahms Second Piano Concerto.

Rangström, whose four symphonies can be heard complete on CPO, wrote a Ballade that is from an era where psychological depths and a more knowing sensibility add dimensions that differ from the Norman. The results are attractively contorted between darkling Rachmaninovian romance and film noir torment. It's an intriguing piece borne of a work composed in the same decade as the Wiklund but revised almost three decades later. The original 1909 score, written in just ten days, seems to have disappeared. The Ballade is tinted by the twentieth century, grown-up, Mephistophelian and inventive if always within the bounds of tonality. Rangström, like his Danish counterpart Paul Schierbeck (Point Classics 5085), had a gift for such supernatural and darkly granitic themes. I find the Ballade fascinating. Wiklund's Concert Piece has been recorded before - by Martin Stürfelt for Hyperion alongside Wiklund's two piano concertos; the latter having first been recorded by the Swedish Caprice label. The Concert Piece is a rhapsody in pearly swirling romance - more Tchaikovsky and Litolff than Rachmaninov.

The extensive liner-note is in Swedish and English and is by the conductor here, B Tommy Andersson who is also a composer. Thankfully he avoids falling into the trap of trying to describe the music in technical terms; this can so easily be sterile and futile. Instead he places the three pieces in a biographical, stylistic and historical setting. Maria Verbaite seems to be well up for such an unusual programme. She plunges into this repertoire with a style that moulds itself to these scores' varying poetry, brilliance and storminess. Verbaite has been favoured by Sterling before: in 2008 she recorded a recital of romantic piano music (Sterling CDA1668). The sound on this CD has a resonant fullness that is particularly communicative in the moments of grandeur and flatters the richness of the orchestra as much as it does the confidences imparted by the piano.

Rob Barnett



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