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Ouverturer å Kongl. Theatern
Jacopo FORONI (1825 – 1858)
1. Uvertyr Nr. 3 A-dur (Overture No. 3 in A major [8:20]
Franz BERWALD (1796 – 1868)
2. Modehandlerskan / The Dressmaker [6:00]
Ludwig NORMAN (1831 – 1885)
3. Festouverture / Festive Overture, Op. 60 [9:00]
Andreas RANDEL (1806 – 1864)
4. Värmlänningarna / The People from Värmland [10:04]
August SÖDERMAN (1832 – 1876)
5. Hin ondes lärospån / The Devil’s First Tentative Efforts [9:25]
6. Jag går i kloster / I Enter a Monastery [8:50]
Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756 – 1792)
7. Proserpine [9:30]
St. Petersburg Hermitage Orchestra/Mats Liljefors (tr. 1-2)
Kung. Hovkapellet/Stig Westerberg (tr. 3-7)
rec. Concert Hall of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm, August 1995 (1-2); Danderyd Grammar School, Sweden, June 1985 (3-4); Studio 2 of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Stockholm, November 1985 (5-7).
STERLING CDS1009-2 [61:10]

In November 1782 the Royal Opera House at Gustav Adolf Square in Stockholm was inaugurated. It was commonly known as King Gustav III’s theatre and it was in this house that the King was murdered less than ten years later at a masked ball. This occurrence later became the subject of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. For 110 years, until it was pulled down in 1892 to make way for the present opera house, this theatre was the venue not only for operas but also for the official music life of Sweden. The Royal Orchestra was, during that period, the only professional orchestra in the country. All the composers represented on this disc had positions with the orchestra, most of them as conductors, Berwald and Randel as violinists.

Jacopo Foroni was Italian and arrived in Stockholm as conductor of an Italian opera company. He immediately became very popular and within months was elected court conductor and revitalised the activities in the house, introducing Verdi, establishing Mozart, and giving symphony concerts of which Beethoven’s works were the backbone. Unfortunately he contracted cholera and died after only nine seasons at the tender age of 33. He wrote several operas, of which Cristina, regina di Svezia has been recorded by Sterling and will be reviewed within a couple of months. Several decades later three concert overtures by him were discovered and published in Milan, but they had all been performed in Stockholm around 1850. The third of them, recorded here, has a slow introduction, based on a Bohemian song by Friedrich Franz Hurka, but the rest of the work is a symphonic development of a Swedish dance tune, a polska. This is probably the first example of folk-music material in a Swedish symphonic movement – ironically enough by an Italian! That Foroni was a skilled composer is beyond doubt and the forthcoming review of his opera will offer further proof of his talent.

Franz Berwald, today commonly regarded as one of the most important symphonists of the 19th century, but during his lifetime he never got the esteem he deserved. He had an unrequited love of opera, the main problem being the texts. His two most important works in the genre, Estrella de Soria and The Queen of Golconda, never entered the standard repertoire. Estrella was seen in five performances in 1862 and was revived in 1898 and 1946 and excerpts have been recorded. Golconda was first played in 1968, 100 years after the composer’s death. The two works represented on this disc were also failures. I Enter a Monastery was premiered on 2 December 1842 with Jenny Lind in the principal role and had a total of just five performances. The operetta The Dressmaker was played only once, on 26 March 1845 and was judged “an ideal remedy for insomnia”. The overtures are well-written and Berwald’s orchestration can be admired, though they hardly belong to his masterpieces. On the other hand anything that Berwald wrote is worth knowing, and The Dressmaker is a first recording.

Ludvig Norman ranks as one of the most important Swedish symphonists of the 19th century. He was court conductor from 1860, when he was 30, and as such he was commissioned to write his Festive Overture for the 100-year jubilee of the Royal Opera in 1882. The liner notes suggest that he was inspired by Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, premiered a year earlier. Whether new works reached Sweden that quickly in those days is an interesting question. Anyway. it is a well-written piece of music based on two central motifs. One is a variation on the Swedish National Anthem, the other an aria from Naumann’s opera Gustaf Wasa, regarded as the Swedish national opera, premiered in 1786 and having 177 performances at the Royal Opera.

The most popular “opera” in Stockholm has, however, been Andreas Randel’s folksy comedy Värmlänningarna (The People from Värmland). Premiered in 1846 it was played 839 times by 1964. Randel made use of folksongs and rural dances besides a lot of music he composed himself and the potpourri overture quotes many of them, including the much-loved ‘Ack Värmeland du sköna’, a song of unknown origin that spread over the world in the 1950s when Stan Getz adopted the melody and played on records and in concert under the title ‘Dear Old Stockholm’.

August Söderman is regarded as one of the most important Swedish composers of the romantic era. He based a lot of his songs, choral pieces and also orchestral works on folk music and in that respect Hugo Alfvén named him “The Father of Swedish Music”. He wrote several operettas and incidental music for about 80 plays. The Devil’s First Tentative Efforts from 1856 was his third operetta, based on a comedy by Scribe. In New Magazine for Music the reviewer wrote: ‘Mr. Söderman’s music is the work of a novice (he was 24 at the time) and has the usual characteristics of technical weakness, in addition to the unusual ones of a lively imagination and a not inconsiderable power of musical invention. This advantageous aspect of his work is especially evident in the splendid and rather interesting accompanied prayer which also forms the introduction to the overture”. Being a ‘novice’, he is uncommonly surefooted in his handling of the orchestra, but what we hear here is probably not the original version but a revision he made fifteen years later for a production at the Royal Theatre. In the meantime he had studied at the Leipzig Conservatory.

The earliest composer in this collection is German born Joseph Martin Kraus, who came to Sweden aged 21 and had his breakthrough in 1780 (or 1781) with the one-act opera Proserpine at a concert performance at the Ulriksdal Castle Theatre. He wrote several stage works, a number of outstanding symphonies, chamber music and sacred works. Unfortunately his life was cut short when he died of tuberculosis in 1792, aged 36. The overture has a beautiful opening with oboe solo and continues dramatically with skilful orchestration. ‘The Swedish Mozart’ as he has been called, was an extraordinary composer and this overture is a worthy conclusion to this interesting traversal of music connected with The Royal Opera in Stockholm from bygone days. The playing of the two orchestras is outstanding, the recording first-class and Carl-Gunnar Åhlén’s liner notes, from which I have quoted extensively, exceptionally informative.

Göran Forsling

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ John France

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