FRANZ ADOLF BERWALD (1796-1868)
The Four Symphonies
Symphony No. 1 in G minor Sinfonie Sérieuse
Symphony No. 2 in D major Sinfonie Capricieuse (1842)
Symphony No. 3 in C major Sinfonie Singulière
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major Sinfonie Naïve (1845)
Jena PO/David Montgomery
recorded Volkshaus, Jena, 16-19 April 1996
ARTE NOVA 74321 37862 2 super bargain price range
CD1 (syms 1/2): [69:03]; CD2 (syms 3/4): [60:10] [129:13]
Berwald's symphonies have been available on disc for many years. They are
hardly ever heard in concert-halls or even in radio concerts. Perhaps the
situation is different in Berwald's native Sweden but somehow I doubt it.
Berwald struggled life-long for financial security. To study abroad in Berlin
he was indebted to the Royal Household for a grant. Later he was to found
an orthopaedic institute in Berlin and manage a glassworks back in Sweden.
All the time he was busy composing. His operatic aspirations, which drew
compositions from him while in Berlin, came to nothing initially. For many
years his works generally attracted hardly any interest in his native Sweden.
After many applications he was appointed in 1867 as composition teacher at
Stockholm Conservatory. Many commissions came in but few if any were completed
before his death in 1868. He had a strong interest in opera, of which there
are several examples, the most successful being Estrella de Soria.
The present symphonies were completed between 1842 and 1845. No 1 was premiered
in 1843. The only one to be performed so quickly. No. 2 survived as a fragment
and in that form was premiered in 1914 being 'completed' as late as 1971;
No. 3 in 1905 and No. 4 in 1878, a decade after his death.
Berwald's music is indebted
to Schubert (Nos 8 and 9) and Beethoven (the
odd numbered symphonies). It is nevertheless
freshly imagined stuff with many daring and
surprising strokes evident in the first and
second symphonies. Also surprising are some
unnervingly forward-looking references to
what was to become Brahms' orchestral style.
The Singulière (No. 3) has sparkling woodwind, mystery,
some of the elemental power of Beethoven 7 and the call of wood-dove in the
land. The second movement themes have a restful curve and rise; not at all
predictable. The Jena orchestra seem utterly at home in this music so much
so that I wonder if they played these works in concert. I defy you to resist
the charms of the first movement of this symphony. The third return to
Beethovenian 'stürm und drang' with whirling strings and the finale
- (presto) is all joyous celebration.
The fourth and final symphony (the spirit of which defies the name
Naïve) bustles with springheel energy. While it may not be quite
the equal of the other three it has a ripely rounded adagio and a bristling
vivace energy that prefigures the Berlioz Corsair.
The sound is decent, natural in ambience and lively.
There are brief but adequate notes (German, English and French) by Stefan
This the only super bargain price set of the Berwald symphonies. You really
cannot go wrong. I have not heard the competition for the four symphonies
(isolated and much celebrated 1960s recordings of two of the symphonies (Decca)
conducted by Sixten Ehrling, Ulf Björlin on EMI, Hyperion's Swedish
RSO set and Neeme Järvi's on DG) but see no reason why you would not
gain great and enduring pleasure from this economical set presented by musicians
who clearly care for this surprising and lovable yet overlooked music.
More please, Arte Nova. How about the complete concertos and symphonies of
Recommended with all warmth.