The orchestral playing has abundant spirit and energy. Berwald is incontrovertibly the leading Scandinavian symphonist of his time, and his music is wholly in this orchestra's bloodstream.
Franz Berwald is the ideal gramophone composer. His music offers welcome variety on the turntable and forms an attractive ingredient in broadcast programmes all over the world, but somehow does not exert a strong enough public appeal to receive more than passing attention in the major international concert halls outside his native Sweden. Unlike Sibelius, he never enjoyed the consistent advocacy of great conductors such as Beecham, Koussevitsky and more recently, Karajan, though Markevitch championed him briefly in the 1950s andRead more recorded for DG in mono the Sinfonie singuliere and the E flat Symphony for the first time on LP with the Berlin Philharmonic (DGM18317, 1/57—nla). Of course, Berwald has neither the range nor the stature of a Sibelius, but he is incontrovertibly the leading Scandinavian symphonist of the period: only Svendsen in his two symphonies might be said to offer a challenge but though his ideas are enchanting, he is nowhere so individual in his approach to form.
Berwald remained in relative obscurity in his lifetime and only came into his own during the first decade or so of the present century, thanks largely to the championship of such figures as Tor Aulin and Wilhelm Stenhammar and because of their association with the latter, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra naturally have a long Berwald tradition. Indeed, it was the Gothenburg orchestra that recorded all but one of the symphonies on the Radiotjanst label in the days of 78s.
The last set of the symphonies came, together with the tone poems and the two concertos, in an admirable HMV boxed set from the RPO under Ulf Bjorlin (SLS5096, 10/mm—nla). These were recorded during a summer heatwave, a rare phenomenon in London, and though they were very much better than nothing, they were a little under-energized. The present set outclasses not only the Bjorlin version but most previous rivals. First, the orchestral playing has abundant spirit and energy: this is music that is wholly in the orchestra's bloodstream. Secondly, the excellent acoustics of the Gothenburg Hall (and the expertise of Michael Bergek's engineering) shows the scores to better advantage even than Decca's Kingsway Hall record of the Singuliere and the E flat with Sixten Ehrling and the LSO (SXL6374, 11/68—nla). Neeme Jarvi sets generally brisk tempos: the first movement of the Singuliere is faster than I have ever heard it before. He takes it at about a minim = 92, as opposed to Markevitch at approximately 84 and Ehrling's 78. As a result the opening loses something of its poetry, and the poco stringendo at bar 123 and elsewhere in the movement sounds rushed. But, of course, the marking is Allegro fuocoso and the final timing (10'30'') does not differ substantially from Berwald's proscribed 11'00''. Equally, the finale is Presto and again Jarvi is a good deal faster than Ehrling (minim = c. 120) or Markevitch (minim = 126) at a breathtaking minim = 132, yet he persuades me he cannot be far off Berwald's intentions since he gets through the piece at 8'11'' (Berwald's autograph says that the piece should take about eight minutes).
The Capricieuse was the last of the four to reach the light of day: a performing edition prepared by Ernst Ellberg was given in Stockholm early in 1914 under the baton of Sibelius's brother-in-law, Armas Jarnefelt. A subsequent edition by the doyen of Berwald scholars, Nils Castegren was prepared in time for the Berwald Centenary Celebrations in 1968 and it is this that has been used since. Jarvi's mercurial account is on the fast side but is exhilarating and fresh. It totally outclasses its predecessors, Dorati and the Stockholm Philharmonic (RCA VICS1319, 11/68—nla) and Bjorlin on HMV. Although the Capricieuse is not the finest of the symphonies, Jarvi almost convinces us that it is. His performance has real muscle and although tempos are again fast, there is a firm grip and a purposeful momentum. The slow movement is surely too fast (Berwald's autograph speaks of ''about 8 minutes'': Jarvi takes 6'55'') yet I have to say that its distinctive eloquence is not lost.
Only one of Berwald's symphonies, the Sinfonie serieuse was performed in his own lifetime: his masterpiece, the Sinfonie singuliere had to wait 60 years before it was first given by Tor Aulin. But it's worth remembering that in the 1840s and 1850s there was no really first-class symphony orchestra in Sweden to play them, in fact, no permanent concerts on any regular basis until the 1870s. I can't imagine that the Serieuse has had many more purposeful or powerful performances than this—even if it is a bit too fast. Berwald's next and last symphony was finished only a month later (April 1845) and is the only one without a title. He did at one time consider calling it ''Sinfonie naive'', though it is anything but that in its construction, indeed it is one of the sunniest and most subtle of Berwald's scores. However, the autograph is enscribed ''Symphony No. 4 in E flat'' and although Berwald through the Swedish Embassy in Paris tried to interest Auber in the score, it remained unperformed until 1878.
The sound in all four symphonies is altogether first rate: very detail comes through with great clarity and presence.
Symphony no 4 in E flat majorby Franz Berwald Conductor:
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1845; Sweden
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Enjoyable BerwaldMay 31, 2017By Alex K. (Liverpool, United Kingdom)See All My Reviews"It would be a hard-hearted listener that did not get a great deal of enjoyment from this album. The symphonies, still far too unfamiliar, are delightful; the playing of the Gothenburg orchestra is superb, especially from the silky strings, and the sound picture throughout has a beautiful bloom. Neeme Jarvi's conducting style, predictably breezy, with generally rapid tempi, suits this fresh, charming music well at a meta-interpretative level. But I can imagine devotees of Berwald may be more reserved over interpretations which have the effect of emphasising the continuities and uniformities between the four pieces over the differences between them. Perhaps the 2nd Symphony, the Capricieuse, responds best to Jarvi's preference for under-interpretation and his lightness of touch and it is no co-incidence that this is the one symphony whose slow movement is an andante rather than an adagio. The slow movements of the three other symphonies are taken at flowing tempi that can be described as adagio only with difficulty. In similar vein, the opening allegro of the Singuliere is insufficiently fuocoso, while in the Serieuse - perhaps the least successful performance, the opening movement is not to my mind 'con energia' and the 'stretto' third movement is surely not stretto enough. For the dedicated Berwaldian to whom each movement of these four symphonies is a contrasting and radical exercise in symphonic argument and form, an element of disappointment may be in store. But for everyone else the pleasures of this set will be considerable."Report Abuse
Curious Repeat in Symphony No. 3July 26, 2015By Frank K. (Bradenton, FL)See All My Reviews"Neeme Jarvi follows the composer's intent closely except for the coda to the finale of Symphony No. 3. For some reason the recording repeats measures 514-529. I found no documentary justification for this alteration. It is not clear whether the repeat was added by Mr. Jarvi or an editing error."Report Abuse