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Swedish Violin Treasures
Helena MUNKTELL (1852-1919)
Violin Sonata in E flat (1905) [33:54]
Algot HAQUINIUS (1886-1966)
Suite for violin and piano (1936) [8:19]
Harald FRYKLÖF (1882-1919)
Sonata à la legenda (1919) [28:00]
Ika PEYRON (1845-1922)
Two Character Pieces, Op.19 (1888) [9:35]
Cecilia Zilliacus (violin)
Bengt Forsberg (piano)
rec. 2020, Ingesund School of Music, Arvika, Sweden

When reviewing Helena Munktell’s orchestral music on Sterling (review) I finished by asking rhetorically; ‘I understand there’s a highly regarded 1905 Violin Sonata by her. Any takers?’ That was fifteen years ago now, but here it is, at last, and it forms part of a selection of Swedish violin works from 1888 to 1936 of which the two biggest and most compelling are those of Munktell and Harald Fryklöf.

I won’t reprise Munktell’s biography here, as there are details in that earlier review, other than to note that in addition to her tally of one opera, four symphonic pieces, choral and vocal works and other miscellaneous items she co-founded the Swedish Society of Composers shortly before her death. Her Violin Sonata was premiered by George Enescu in Paris in 1905 (the composer had been taught in the city by Benjamin Godard and Vincent d’Indy) and is a powerful four-movement affair. Its energy level is high, but it relaxes into contrasting sections adroitly. There’s a warm-hearted Fauréan quality to the lyricism and a Grieg-like stamp to some of the folkloric elements; a few, but not many, impressionistic moments add another layer of colour and influence. As in her orchestral music there is a somewhat restless, changeable quality to the writing – not exactly ants-in-the-pants – but a desire to inflect and contrast. In the end it’s not a wholly distinctive work but it is full of interest, not least in the Late-Romantic panels of the confidently voiced finale with its reminiscent themes. I’m more than glad to have had the chance to hear this first-ever recording.

Fryklöf’s Sonata à la legenda was written just after the First World War. If it’s known much at all it’s largely because of Charles Barkel (born Charles Andersson in 1898) who made his own edition and whose performance of the Sonata is preserved in an archive recording (see review) housed in a superb Caprice box set. As I noted in the review, there is an accumulation of Svendsen and Grieg as well as plenty of Bardic and Archaic influence, bound up in Phrygian modes. Cecilia Zilliacus and Bengt Forsberg are wholly successful in navigating every crevice of the work drawing out its abiding expressivity, its zippy scherzo and the virtuoso flourishes of the finale.

Algot Haquinius was probably better known as a pianist than as a composer but his Suite for violin and piano is an accomplished three-movement piece, light, liquid in the opening, warm with languid spaced piano chords in the central movement, and full of resinous moto perpetuo lucidity in the finale. Ika Peyron, the oldest of the composers, brought up a family before embarking on a composing career. Her first serious works date from her early 50s, after she’d sought guidance from Emil Sjögren. The Two Character Pieces offer contrasting salon pleasures: a restful Romance and an insinuating Humoresk. They are programmed last and therefore end the disc on a note of genial refreshment.

Graced with fine notes and a natural recording perspective everything here, except the Fryklöf, is heard in world première recordings. It helps to have such stylistically apt and assured guides as Zilliacus and Forsberg who, as they showed in their recording of the violin music of Amanda Maier (review), have few peers in this kind of repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf

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