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Ludvig NORMAN (1831-1885)
Concert Piece for piano and orchestra, op. 54 (1850, rev. 1875/80) [14:48]
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)
Ballad for piano and orchestra (1909, rev. 1937) [22:03]
Adolf WIKLUND (1879-1950)
Concert Piece for piano and orchestra, op. 1 (1903) [18:39]
Maria Verbaite (piano)
NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra/B Tommy Anderson
rec. July 2011, Umeå Concert Hall, Sweden
STERLING CDS1095-2 [55:40]

Sterling’s devotion to the unsung composer, particularly Scandinavians, over a number of decades is remarkable. Yes, there is some Beethoven, Mozart and Bach among their releases, but generally as part of an artist-driven recording, rather than one dedicated to the composer. There is little Grieg or Sibelius either. I have heard a number of their releases in the last few months, with varying degrees of satisfaction. I’m pleased to report that this is one of the good ones.

The three Swedish composers presented here are not unknown, but certainly they do not feature regularly in release lists. Of the three works, I can only find another recording (from 2010) of the Wiklund, coupled with his two full piano concertos on Volume 57 on the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series (review). There are no claims to first recordings for the other two.

Ludvig Norman was the successor to Franz Berwald as the most prominent Swedish composer of his era. He studied, as so many did, in Leipzig, and attracted the attention of Robert Schumann. That Schumann attracted Norman, there is no doubt, as this work is suffused with the atmosphere of the Schumann concerto. It is presumably a coincidence that they both bear the same opus number. For me, it is the pick of the three works, lots of good melodies, though not as virtuosic as one might imagine for a work of its name. It is the shortest by some minutes – that is definitely not a coincidence. Wikipedia indicates that Norman wrote two piano trios; I certainly would like to hear them.

Ture Rangström studied in Berlin with Hans Pfitzner, and was among the first Swedish composers to absorb modernist elements into his music. This Ballad was written at the same time as his breakthrough symphonic poem, Dithyramb, and revised much later, though to what extent is not known. The notes, written by the conductor, suggest that Rangström was the most original Swedish composer of all time, and I’m certainly not sufficiently knowledgeable about Swedish music to argue with him, but this work doesn’t strike me as being especially so. At times, I hear echoes of Rachmaninov, though without the same degree of romantic passion (or memorable melodies). It is the most dramatic of the three works here, but at well over twenty minutes, does rather run out of steam in places.

Adolf Wiklund was better known in Sweden and Europe as a conductor and pianist, and composed relatively few works. This was his first publically performed and published piece, and shows a good degree of maturity. There are plenty of fireworks in the solo part, not surprising given that he was the performer at its premiere. The notes suggest that his influences were Brahms and Debussy; the former is certainly present here, along with Tchaikovsky, but I am struggling to hear anything of the latter.

With regard to the performances, they strike me as perfectly fine, though in the only comparison I can make – that of the Wiklund with the Hyperion release – the 2½ minutes extra that Verbaite takes is not to her favour: there is more drive and vitality in the Hyperion release. Sound quality is very natural, and the notes are all one could hope for.

David Barker

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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