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Bengt Wilhelm HALLBERG (1824-1883)
Concert Overture for Orchestra, No. 2 in F Major [7:37]
Symphony in F Major [23:46]
Joseph DENTE (1838-1905)
Symphony in D minor [23:35]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Per Engström (Hallberg)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ola Karlsson (Dente)
rec. 1984/92
STERLING CDS1120-2 [55:04]

I must admit that both Bengt Wilhelm Hallberg and Joseph Dente are names new to me, but Bo Hyttner and his Sterling label have produced a great number of discs dedicated to the output of the more unusual romantic composers. I have enjoyed each and every one that I have heard and I am glad to say that this present disc is no different.

Bengt Wilhelm Hallberg was a Swedish composer who studied composition with Franz Berwald and received his degrees as organist and church singer in 1845 and music teacher in 1849 from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stockholm. Even in Sweden, Hallberg is primarily known as a composer of sacred choral music and for his work as a hymn writer and compiler. He is here represented by two works: The Concert Overture for Orchestra, No. 2 in F Major composed around 1853, and the Symphony in F Major from about 1870. The Overture is an excellent curtain raiser, with its bright start and its development of thematic material. It is reminiscent in places of Beethoven and also of Felix Mendelssohn. Pretty much the same can be said of the Symphony, although there are times when I thought that I could detect a French romantic influence. The Symphony follows on in a similar vein, with the influence of Beethoven and Mendelssohn again in evidence. The stately opening theme of the first movement sets the tone for the whole work but leads to a lighter and less inspiring section towards the movement’s conclusion. The opening to the Menuetto scherzando sounds strangely familiar, I just can’t put my finger why, its strong opening theme having a sense of momentum giving way to a more sedate section with some nice writing for the woodwind, before the opening theme reappears. Opening with a statement in the brass section the slow third movement has some nice ideas that needed a little more fleshing out for me. The final Scherzando e molto vivace opens with swirling strings before the entrance of the brass in a typical Beethovian interjection. Think the Sixth Symphony and you get the idea. Further influences of Beethoven are felt before the influence of Mendelssohn comes to the fore. This makes it feel like Hallberg was writing his symphony for an audience brought up on the German masters at the expense of Swedish national music.

Joseph Dente, whilst a composer in his own rite is primarily remembered these days as a teacher, with his students containing some of Sweden’s greatest composers of the next generation. These included the likes of Helena Munktell, Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar, all of whom feature in my collection. Dente’s Symphony in D minor opens with a sense of foreboding within the brass before the broad sweep of the strings take over, quite akin to Mendelssohn again, but this soon gives way to a more nationalist style, with a jolty central theme being a bold statement that rushes headlong to the movement’s conclusion. This is carried on into the joyous brief second movement, leading to the slow Andante third movement. Its pleasing opening theme driving into a lilting and well written movement – the finest of the Symphony and the disc as a whole. The final movement Allegro vivace is well constructed with broad sweeps of orchestral brilliance, a little slower than the time signature would suggest, especially in the central section, but still a lovely conclusion to the work and one which makes me want to discover more of this composer’s music.

Although Bengt Wilhelm Hallberg’s music is a bit derivative, it is still an interesting snapshot of the Swedish musical world of the day. The Symphony of Joseph Dente, on the other hand, more than makes up for the shortcomings of his predecessor, bold with strong nationalistic tendencies, this work marks the transition between the music of the likes of Hallberg with those who would follow Dente, Sweden’s golden generation. The playing of both orchestras is committed and finely judged under their conductors, with both giving excellent performances. The recorded sound is very good as are the booklet notes, making this an interesting, and because of the Dente, a most welcome release.
Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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