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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Piano Music
Three Fantasies, Op. 11 (1895) [15:57]
Sensommarnätter (Late Summer Nights), Op. 33 (1914) [16:43]
Three small piano pieces (1895) [5:10]
Piano Sonata No. 4 in G minor (1890) [24:23]
Paolo Scafarella (piano)
rec. 2020, DiG Area Studios, Molfetta, Italy

Major influences of the young Wilhelm Stenhammar were Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms, but later he aligned himself more with the music of Berwald, Sibelius and Nielsen. He was considered the most refined Swedish pianist of his time, having studied with Richard Anderson, a pupil of Clara Schumann. As a pianist-composer his piano oeuvre consists of four sonatas, a selection of piano pieces and two concertos. He also wrote symphonic, operatic, choral and chamber music.

The earliest work here and the most substantial is the Piano Sonata No. 4 in G minor, which dates from 1890. I was surprised to read that it was only discovered as recently as 2008. It has all the ardour and passion of a nineteen year old, and was an ambitious project for him at the time. Robert Schumann’s Sonata Op 22, also in G minor, seems to have provided some inspiration. It’s cast in the traditional Romantic four-movement scheme. The virtuosic opening movement, overflowing with youthful exuberance, demands a big technique in addition to imagination and fantasy. Scafarella brings it off with flair and panache. It’s the second movement Romanza which feels the most Scandinavian of the four. Intensely melodic, with a touch of nostalgia, it could almost qualify as a standalone piece. A rhythmically charged Scherzo precedes an animated Rondo finale with a fiery coda.

Fast forward to 1914, and we have Sensommarnätter (Late Summer Nights), Op 33, which is regarded by many as the composer’s piano masterpiece. This five-movement work encompasses a wide emotional range, transporting us on a journey from introspective twilight to sunlit radiance. Some of the sensuous harmonies Stenhammar employs sound almost Fauré-like. The Poco Allegretto final movement sounds the most Scandinavian, with some Grieg added to the mix. The Op. 33 is by far the finest work on the disc.

The Three Fantasies Op 11 from 1895 are popular amongst pianists and perhaps it’s significant that they were the only solo piano compositions Stenhammar performed in his own recitals. The Brahmsian passionate sweep of the first piece employs rolling arpeggios. No. 2, Dolce scherzando is the most Schumann-like and the least distinguished of the three for me. The last piece sounds like a Brahms intermezzo; it’s elegiac in character. From the same year are the Three small piano pieces. They’re imbued with simplicity and candour. The third piece is a Polish mazurka, but it certainly doesn’t sound as sophisticated as any of Chopin’s.

Scarfarella’s imaginative playing makes him an ideal performer of this music. He’s been warmly recorded. For first timers the disc is a good introduction to Stenhammar’s music and certainly repays repeated hearings.

Stephen Greenbank

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