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Helena MUNKTELL (1852-1919)
Bränningar (Breaking Waves) - symphonic picture Op. 19 (1893) [11:09]
Suite for large orchestra (Preludio; Menuetto à l'antique; Andante molto; Finale) (1895) [19:14]
Valborgsmessoeld (Walpurgisfire) - Poem Op. 24 (1913?) [11:27]
Dala Suite (Preludium - Dimanche au village; Le lac de Siljan; Danses Rustiques; Finale - sommarnatt: fortare går dansen - summer night - the dance grows quicker) (1910-12) [23:16]
Gävle SO/Tobias Ringborg
rec. 10-16 Jan 2005, Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden. DDD
STERLING CDS1066-2 [65:32]

Sterling return to home ground to proffer the music of another of the largely unknown Swedish romantics. No doubt they would be unable to do this without the enlightened financial support of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs. This must anyway have been an expensive project - they even lavished seven days of the orchestra's rehearsal time on getting the best results.

Munktell's life story is told in considerable detail by Anna Jerregard Skarby. The key facts are that she was born into an affluent family with a predilection for matters musical. She was widely travelled, taking in tours to Italy, Vienna and Paris. Her teachers included Vincent d'Indy - noticeable in the romantic spirit that suffuses her music. Benjamin Godard was also one of her mentors. Her compositions were played during the 1890s in both Paris and Sweden. She was a woman of religious conviction, assured in her belief that her gift came from God. She had a weak heart and also suffered from eye disease. She died in Stockholm.

The music is delicate and romantic and, in the case of the suites, unsurprisingly folksy, taking a flavouring from the Alfvén rhapsodies. The 1895 Suite for large orchestra recalls the suites by Ludolf Nielsen but blended with an at times very strong Gallic sighing elegance. Try the finale of the Suite where Weber's Euryanthe and Oberon play catch-as-catch-can with Franckian gestures. The Walpurgisfire has that idyllic-ecstatic generosity of lyricism and luxuriously long pace that may be familiar to you if you know - as you should - Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony. This personifies a warm Scandinavian evening caught in a sleepy and honeyed Delian flux. It is more poetic than dramatic so do not expect cliff-edge derring-do. The lambent finale grades away into a softened glow. Some rare atmospheric playing here from the Gävle orchestra.

The Dala Suite is more polished and well-rounded than the Suite for Large Orchestra but has the same rustic accoutrements and a triumphant finale. Breaking Waves is a Wagnerian tone poem but with a similarly idyllic caste. Yes, the waves crash along the shore but the mind's eye tracks out past the breakers to the murmuring miles beyond the reefs and skerries - a romantic eternity. The impressionism is real and the composer is much better disposed towards intense mood-painting than say Hakon Børresen in his Sea Symphony. This is more Nystroem and late Alfvén than Rubinstein or Raff.

These are expansive luxuriant performances of music that has similar qualities. Even so it might occasionally have benefited from a tauter and more steely grip. The recording is well handled with the bass spectrum finely captured and with a very natural effect.

A pleasure to meet such agreeable music and a treat for those preferring pastoral luxuriance.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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