Notes and Editorial Reviews
The accustomed romantic idiom inflamed with Swedish folk voices - a sensational bargain.
When reviewing the 4 CD Bis set from which this is drawn I said that it was a sensational bargain. Well that’s even more the case with this issue pruned of the Serenade and some other lyric pieces and concentrating on his big orchestral statements. In the place of the original notes we have an excellent and extended essay by Malcolm Macdonald. Brilliant have not stinted on the documentation.
The performances and recorded sound are never less than very good indeed. In particular the readings of the Second Symphony, piano concertos and
Lodolezzi Sings are supple, galvanic, generous-hearted and fiery. Even so I am not shaken from my first love and allegiance in the Second Symphony – the Caprice recording made in the 1970s by Westerberg.
The two symphonies have been taken from concerts complete with the odd moment of 'audience participation' and with applause. The Second Symphony has had more limelight than the First. It reminds me of the folksy Brahms or Dvorák yet with a distinct Scandinavian atmosphere I would not claim for the more generic-riomantic First. I doubt that anyone has ever matched Järvi's boiling intensity in the first movement. Dvorák's Eighth Symphony is an unmistakable presence in the second. There are moments in this virile and rhythmic symphony where the work seemed to be a sort of nineteenth century doppelgänger of the Moeran Symphony. If you must have a studio recording then by all means go for Järvi in his DG version or the reputedly less well recorded Naxos with the RSNO conducted by Petter Sundkvist (Naxos 8.553888). The strongest contender all round is - as I say - the classic ADD recording of the Stockholm PO conducted by the once ubiquitous Stig Westerberg on Caprice CAP 21151.
The First Symphony touches on Schumann and, just occasionally Berlioz. Although Stenhammar claimed that it was influenced by Bruckner it is rather too relaxed for that parallel to be entirely convincing though the rustic chivalry of Bruckner 4 and 6 is picked up on in the finale. The work is charmingly discursive but lacking in Brucknerian tension and storm clouds.
Peter Mattei handles the songful
Florez and Blanzeflor (a chivalric tale) with suave tone.
Midvinter proceeds along the same tracks as Alfvén's Swedish Rhapsodies while the low key
Sentimental Romances are handled with undemonstrative aplomb by Ulf Wallin. These Romances would couple well with the willowy and undramatic pastels of Sibelius's Two Serenades.
The two piano concertos occupy disc 3. The epic First Piano Concerto stands stylistically between the Grieg and Brahms 2 (listen to the start of the third movement with its rustic nationalist lilt) imposing similar demands on soloist and orchestra. This is strong and sturdy with very fine inspirational writing in line with the Stanford Second Concerto and the Bortkiewicz concertos. The Second is also Brahmsian but blended with early Rachmaninov. Though still obviously romantic it sounds more 'modern' with the sort of
art nouveau decorative caprice to be found in the salon charmers of Alfred Hill, Frank Hutchens, Greville Cooke and Harry Farjeon. It too is in four movements. Ortiz and Derwinger are able advocates. Perhaps Ortiz makes more of her chances than Derwinger though both are very good indeed.
The sound overall is transparent and refined with plenty of impact. Even the analogue tape of the First Symphony sounds good and audience participation in the two live recordings is neither extensive nor distracting.
Do go for this set if you long to hear a late-nineteenth century romantic ploughing a delightfully Scandinavian furrow.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International