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Gustaf BENGTSSON (1886-1965)
Violin Concerto in B minor (1941) [31:43]
Cello Concerto in A minor (1932) [27:33]
Tobias Ringborg (violin)
Mats Rondin (cello)
 Malmö Opera Orchestra/Mats Rondin (Violin Concerto); Tobias Ringborg (Cello Concerto)
rec. Palladium, Malmö, Sweden. 3-4, 8 June 2004 (Violin Concerto); 1-2 June 2004 (Cello Concerto). DDD
STERLING CDS-1063-2 [59:42]

A student of Paul Juon in Paris and Hugo Riemann in Berlin, Swedish composer Gustaf Bengtsson spent many years as a distinguished regional choral director, and not pursuing appointments in Stockholm. An organist as well as erstwhile violinist, his great debut as a composer arrived in a special 1912 concert when he, Kurt Atterberg and Oskar Lindberg all had works premiered.

These two concertos are the products of his mid-period as a composer. The earlier is the Cello Concerto, written in 1932 for, and premiered by, Gunnar Norrby. Its open-hearted lyricism is unfettered by any doctrinaire stylistic concern. From the sound of things Bengtsson seems to have assimilated certain models, cadences, harmonies and even chords from other works and allowed them to infiltrate, or infuse or indeed colonise, elements of his own work. There are Brahmsian figures in the first movement, notably in the cadenza where the shade of the Double Concerto for violin and cello hovers benignly. In the slow movement his gift for long-spun melodic distinction can be admired. It’s always a challenge to balance the solo cello against the orchestral tapestry but Bengtsson largely achieves this – the winds’ descants, the cello coiling with them, is an especially felicitous touch. The vigorous Rondo finale has the adventurous honesty of film music, a kind of romance in moonlight too in places, with orchestral chords summoning up Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, as one or two moments had in the opening moment too.

The Violin Concerto followed in 1941, though its premiere wasn’t to be until February 1944. The influences here seem to be Russian; formally classical and again uninterested in novelty, either structural or harmonic, this is another attractive piece. Its principal influence seems to have been Tchaikovsky from the sound of things, and there are a number of places when increasing orchestral rhythmic agitation, preparatory to a violin entry, very much puts one in mind of the Russian. A sweetly suggestive and lyrical second theme once more shows the composer’s succulent side. There’s Scheherazade-like warmth to the central movement, a rich cantilena sporting mountain top horn harmonies, the prevailing spirit one of Elysian simplicity. Terpsichorean matters dominate in the pithy, pirouetting finale leading to a spirited and triumphant end.

Tobias Ringborg is the attractive soloist in the Violin Concerto and is a man who has done much to further the cause of Scandinavian music on disc and in the concert hall. Mats Rondin is similarly sympathetic in the Cello Concerto. A droll conceit is that Ringborg conducts the Cello concerto and Rondin the Violin Concerto. After idly wondering whether Sterling couldn’t afford a conductor, I decided they could but, like Thibaud conducting Szeryng in the Beethoven Concerto, unexpectedly good results can follow when an instrumentalist conducts.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Ian Lace


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