Notes and Editorial Reviews
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 Lipka.
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 Gösta Nystroem?
Recommended with all warmth.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in E flat major by Franz Berwald
Jena Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1845; Sweden
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