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A SR Tribute to Erling Blöndal Bengtsson: The Swedish Radio Recordings 1957-1980
Hans HOLEWA (1905-1991)
Quattro Cadenze (1968) [22:36]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Karl-Birger BLOMDAHL (1916-1968)
Trio (1955) [19:14]
Thore Jansson (clarinet), Kjell Bækkelund (piano)
Ingvar LIDHOLM (b. 1921)
4 Pezzi for cello and piano (1955) [11:33]
Anker Blyme (piano)
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Sonata for cello and piano, B minor, op. 27 (1925) [21:15]
Anker Blyme (piano)
Henry ECCLES (1670-1742)
Sonata for cello and piano, G minor (c.1720) [8:59]
Greta Eriksson (piano)
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Suite for solo cello No. 1, A minor (1956) [9:55]
Dag WIRÉN (1905-1986)
Sonatina for cello and piano No. 1, op. 1 (1931) [6:59]
Anker Blyme (piano)
Juli GARRETA (1875-1925)
Sonata for cello and piano F Major (1923) [33:52]
José Ribera (piano)
DANACORD DACOCD778 [74:38 + 59:45]

The listener to the present double CD will be amazed at the diversity of Bengtsson’s repertoire: from the English composer Henry Eccles’ Cello Sonata, c.1720 to the equally obscure Hans Holewa’s attractive Quattro Cadenza written in 1965, by way of several other relatively unknown composers and a few better-kenned names and their works. I rely heavily on the liner notes, written by Colin Anderson, for the background to these rare works.

I had never heard of Vienna-born composer and pianist Hans Holewa before (1905-91). After study in Vienna he went to Stockholm during 1937 as conductor at the Grand Theatre in Gothenburg. He remained in Sweden until his death. The Quattro Cadenze, for cello and orchestra are truly impressive pieces. Although composed in 1968, there is a degree of impressionism and romance in these pages. Naturally, Holewa’s modernist language is prominent, especially in the more dramatic moments of this work. On the other hand, the general impression is one of retrospection and intimacy, with just a touch of magic. The orchestration of this music is superlative.

It is good to discover an old-fashioned serial work in this collection. The Swedish composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s splendid Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (1955) is unashamedly devised in the manner of the Second Viennese School. There is good balance in all four movements between tranquil reflection and massive explosions of power and violence. Colin Anderson (liner notes) is correct in stating that the Trio owes more to Webern than Schoenberg or Berg: yet there is a lyricism about much of this music that seems to derive from the composer’s imagination rather than from a strict application of the tone-row.

Ingvar Lidholm’s 4 pezzi for cello and piano date from the same year as Blomdahl’s Trio, and again he utilises the series/tone row as an aid to his composition. I guess that this is a much freer application of the 12-tone technique. The work is in four movements that exhibit music that is often energetic, sometimes a little ‘meandering’, but always expressive and satisfying.

Although Kurt Atterberg is best known for his impressive cycle of nine symphonies, his extensive catalogue contains a wide range of music, including operas, ballets, concerti, choral works and chamber music. Atterberg is a romantic at heart. His Cello Sonata exudes warmth, virtuosity and ultimate calm. The placid middle movement, ‘adagio molto’ is particularly gorgeous with its mellow conversation between soloists.

The liner notes wisely insist that the English composer, Henry Eccles (1670-1742) is not to be confused with his brother John, cakes from the eponymous Lancashire town or Spike Milligan’s humorous creation in The Goons. I was impressed by the Cello Sonata from Henry, which, as the dates imply, straddles the line between baroque and classical styles. The final movement is particularly challenging for the cellist, with little support from the pianist. It is one of 12 violin sonatas published in 1720, which has been transcribed for cello and piano. This is a lovely work that deserves to be better known. The original twelve (for violin and continuo) have been issued on Musica Omnia (MO0411).

Ernest Bloch’s Suite for solo cello No. 1 A minor was written in 1956. I am not sure that this music works for me. However, I acknowledge that these ‘epigrammatic’ pieces are beautifully constructed, and played with deep emotion and understanding. It is a dark, ruminative Suite that nods to the composer’s Jewish tradition.

Dag Wirén is usually recalled for the ‘Marcia’ from his Serenade for strings, written in 1937. Yet his range of composition is extensive, including five symphonies, film music, stage works and many pieces for chamber ensemble. The present Sonatina for cello and piano is an example of the composer’s neo-classical style. The three well-balanced movements respectively present a lively ‘allegro’, a ‘tender’ adagio and a fun-filled, ‘molto vivace’.

The final work is by a composer totally new to me: Juli Garreta. Despite being born in Catalonia, the music is not full of Spanish sunshine. The liner notes suggest a likeness to Edvard Grieg. This three-movement Sonata is a long work that is romantic in mood from end to end. The slow movement is heart-achingly gorgeous. The cello part is strongly lyrical and the accompaniment is wonderfully pianistic in its support. I feel that this work should be introduced into recitals by cellists: it is worthy of comparison with many better-known examples of the genre. A marvellous work.

Briefly, Erling Blöndal Bengtsson was born in Copenhagen in 1932. In 1948, he travelled to Philadelphia, USA, to study cello under Gregor Piatigorsky at the Curtis Institute. For the remainder of his career Bengtsson combined performance, both in the concert hall and the radio studio, with academic appointments and teaching posts, including the Royal Danish Academy, the Swedish Radio Music School and a professorship at the Hochschule für Musik Köln and the University of Michigan, School of Music. In his later years, Bengtsson presented masterclasses in Iceland and Norway. Erling Blöndal Bengtsson died in Ann Arbor, Michigan on 6 June 2013. There is an excellent website dedicated to his life and achievement.

I was impressed with the remastering of these radio broadcasts dating from 1957-1980. They are clear, rounded and lacking in extraneous noise. They impart the warmth and virtuosity of Bengtsson’s playing to the full.

As with previous compilations of Erling Blöndal Bengtsson’s recordings released by Danacord, the liner notes are good. They include a biography of the soloist and just a little too brief a set of notes on each work. A detailed discography of Bengtsson’s recordings is given.

I recommend this disc to all lovers of the cello. It is good to discover relatively unknown works that impress on first hearing.

John France

Recording details
10 January 1971 (Holewa), 17 March 1957 (Blomdhal), 6 April 1963 (Lidholm), 31 July 1966 (Atterberg), 2 February 1980 (Eccles), 2 February 1980 (Bloch), 6 April 1963 (Wirén), 22 November 1973 (Garreta)



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