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Stenhammar: Symphonies 1 & 2, Etc / Järvi, Gothenburg So

Release Date: 07/18/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 445857   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wilhelm Stenhammar
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STENHAMMAR Symphonies: No. 1 in F; No. 2 in g. Excelsior! Serenade in F Neeme Järvi, cond; Gothenburg SO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 445 857 (2 CDs: 138:37)

Scandinavia has certainly produced its share of exceptional musical talent, including Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius, and Carl Nielsen, but the music of these giants frequently overshadows composers of lesser prominence, but not necessarily lesser talent. In this category we find Wilhelm Stenhammar Read more (1871–1927). He was one of the most significant figures in the history of Sweden’s musical development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and his importance and cultural value is not unlike that of Edward Elgar in England.

As a musician of exceptionally broad cultural awareness and development and a pianist of formidable talent and accomplishment, Stenhammar’s appearances with the Aulin Quartet­—founded by his countryman, violinist Tor Aulin­—were acclaimed all over the continent and his solo recitals, particularly his interpretations of Beethoven, were equally admired. At the end of the 19th century, Stenhammar was also renowned as one of the leading interpreters of the Piano Concerto in D Minor of Brahms. But it was in his native Sweden that Stenhammar would leave the most lasting impressions, and his reputation as a composer would hold fast, to be eclipsed only by that of Hugo Alfvén.

For a number of years, composition took a back seat to Stenhammar’s other musical activities (he was the conductor of the Stockholm Opera and later the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the first fully professional orchestra in Sweden), so his catalog of compositions is rather slight in quantity. One finds the expected piano pieces, the earliest being influenced by Brahms. These include four excellent and powerful sonatas. There are also songs, several chamber works (including a half-dozen string quartets), and­—in addition to the orchestral works recorded here—two piano concertos, and the exquisite Florez och Blanzeflor for baritone and orchestra.

Stenhammar’s compositions break no new ground and therefore do not set him apart from his contemporaries. His music walks the expected melodic and harmonic paths associated with Brahmsian Romanticism that are found in his early Fantasy Pieces, op. 11. However, Stenhammar’s works are unquestionably those of a northern European, and his musical personality, though not immediately strong or assertive, becomes more compelling as one explores the subtleties of his music. Stenhammar’s voice, though long muffled due to the attention accorded his better-known contemporaries, was distinct, and it has begun to reemerge. In doing so, it reveals a man whose language, though not wholly original, was certainly rooted in the tenor of his era.

The earliest of Stenhammar’s self-contained orchestral works is the concert overture Excelsior! Composed in 1896, it carries a motto from Faust : “Yet it is innate in every man that his feelings surge upward within him.” The First Symphony followed in 1902–03, with the Serenade occupying Stenhammar’s attention from 1911–13, and the Second Symphony being written from 1911–15. Although the First Symphony was performed, Stenhammar was less than enthusiastic about the work and its reception, and withdrew it for revision. Unlike Grieg, who disavowed his only symphony and even indicated on the manuscript that it was never to be performed, Stenhammar, intended to rework his First Symphony, but never found or made the time. Described by the composer as “idyllic Bruckner,” it is a lengthy and occasionally sprawling work. Lasting just under an hour, it brims with the confidence and optimism of a 31 year old, and contains much to admire, not to mention enjoy. As with all of Stenhammar’s music, the melodies soar and the lush but never dense scoring exhibits confidence and is impressive. The Second Symphony­—not quite as long or rambling—hints at Swedish folk songs and folk dances, but Stenhammar only indulges in the spirit of his homeland and never embraces the letter. There are also hints of Bruckner here and there—especially in the Scherzo­—and the finale is a well-wrought fugue that brings down the curtain in a grand and glorious manner. The Serenade is an equally impressive work lasting just over half an hour, and though lighter in nature than the symphonies, it is far from the world of the music that one generally associates with the genre.

This two-CD set consists of material recorded in Gothenburg in 1992 and 1993, and released in 1995. Järvi owns this turf, sweeping aside all previous competition, and by way of his unerring insight and scrupulous musicianship, sets the standard. The orchestra is in top form throughout, heaping glory upon glory, and providing exceptional advocacy throughout. Whether it’s the optimistic sweep at the beginning of Excelsior! , the great beauty of the horn quartet that opens the First Symphony, the overall elegance of the Serenade, or the contrapuntal finesse found in the finale to the Second Symphony, the Gothenburgers preserve each and every phrase in strong performances that make an eloquent and elegant case for a composer deserving of a much wider audience.

This [has not been] an easy item to locate... But no one can unseat this set from its newly acquired pedestal in our Classical Hall of Fame.

FANFARE: Michael Carter
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Works on This Recording

Excelsior!, Op. 13 by Wilhelm Stenhammar
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Stockholm, Sweden 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden 
Length: 13 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Symphony no 1 in F major by Wilhelm Stenhammar
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902-1903; Sweden 
Date of Recording: 03/1993 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden 
Length: 50 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Serenade in F, Op. 31 by Wilhelm Stenhammar
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Date of Recording: 11/1993 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden 
Length: 32 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Symphony no 2 in G minor, Op. 34 by Wilhelm Stenhammar
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911-1915; Sweden 
Date of Recording: 09/1993 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden 
Length: 42 Minutes 4 Secs. 

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