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Josef Otto af SILLÉN (1859-1951)
Violin Concerto in E minor (1920s?) [33:39]
Symphony No. 3 in E minor (1937) [28:54]
Christian Bergqvist (violin)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Göran Nilson
rec. September 2001, Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden
STERLING CDS1044-2 [62:33]

I suspect Josef Sillén is a new name to many of you, as it was to me, so some biographical information is appropriate here, especially as it appears there is no Wikipedia entry, not even one in Swedish, for him. He was born outside Stockholm, and was a classmate of the future king Gustav V and prime minister Hjalmar Branting. He joined the army as a volunteer (a reservist?) after leaving school but worked in insurance for much of his life. It was in the military that he first received musical instruction, and began to compose. He wrote to his daughter that “if I had independent means, I would devote myself in earnest to composition”. He was chairman of the New Philharmonic Society for a number of years, and after retirement from commerce, wrote a considerable number of orchestral works, including five symphonies and the concerto presented here.

The violin concerto, apparently his only concertante composition, was dedicated to his daughter, who studied the instrument under Leopold Auer. The work was not performed until this recording. The booklet notes suggest Wieniawski and the Sterling website Mendelssohn, but for me, Bruch is a stronger influence, especially the G minor concerto, though alas without the memorable themes or the passion. The slow movement does have its moments of real beauty. The solo violin part is not as virtuosic as in many Romantic concertos, and soloist Bergqvist was probably not too taxed.

The symphony did get a public performance, under the baton of Adolf Wiklund, whose piano concertos were recorded by Hyperion and Caprice (CAP21363). It was described as a “novelty” in the press at the time, but that can only have been due to the composer, rather than the music, which is very much informed by the fourth and fifth symphonies of Tchaikovsky, though again without the passion and drama. Like the concerto it's pleasant but quickly forgotten.

The notes are quite compendious, given how slight Sillén’s profile was. Recording quality is perfectly adequate, and the orchestra, which has a number of recent recordings for Naxos under its belt, does a good job with what it has.

This is really only one for the devotee of the unsung.

David Barker



 

 




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