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LARSSON (1908-1986) Lyric Fantasy Op. 54 (1966); Little Serenade for String Orchestra Op. 12 (1934) Adagio for string orchestra Op. 48 (1960)
DE FRUMERIE (1908-1987) Pastoral Suite for flute, string orchestra & harp Op. 13B (1933)
BLOMDAHL (1916-1968) Adagio from 'The Wakeful Night' (1945)
ATTERBERG (1887-1974) Suite No.3 for violin, viola and string orchestra Op.19 No.1 (c1921)
RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947) Divertimento elegiaco for string orchestra (1918)
Sara Troback (Violin); Johanna Persson (Viola); Sarah Lindloff (Flute).
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
Rec 9th-11th November 1995
NAXOS 8.553715 [71.42]
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The title of this CD is a bit misleading -at least to most listeners in the United Kingdom. Let me explain. I did a straw poll amongst four or five of my musical friends. 'What is you favourite piece of Swedish music?' I asked in all innocence. I drew a blank. My next question was simpler. 'Can you name a Swedish composer?'

Well, after we had disposed of Grieg as Norwegian, Nielsen as Danish and Sibelius as a Finn, we drew another blank. Only one bright person hazarded a guess at Dag Wirén. She won the prize. And this was from people who know and love and play classical music. When the question was asked back to me, I was slightly less stumped. But only just. I have been listening lately to Kurt Atterberg's symphonies and Peterson-Berger's 'Journey on Southern Winds.' But apart from agreeing to Dag Wirén and adding Lars-Erik Larsson I too was very much in the dark.

So how does Naxos justify the title 'favourite'? Quite simply, I think. These pieces are well known in Sweden. They form an excellent introduction to Swedish music. If we were to listen to them and think about them and explore a little further into the lives and works of these five composers, we would find a completely new world of beautiful, interesting and compelling music. It is the tendency we have in this country to elevate the Germano-Austrian contribution to music and forget much else - including British and American works. So Scandinavian masterpieces are an area we have to work at to discover. Beyond Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius these works are rarely represented in the concert hall. Most music lovers are blissfully unaware of this rich tapestry of European music that, to the Anglo-American ear, is largely an undiscovered country.

So what is it about this CD that recommends itself to listeners? First and foremost it is an introduction. It shows a variety of styles from the first half of the twentieth century. It is music composed mainly in a lighter vein. There is nothing difficult here, although there are profound moments. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra under their conductor Petter Sundkvist is rightly proud of this repertoire. And this shows in the way it is played. It reveals all these pieces in the best possible light. The playing is sensitive and very beautiful. There is no sense of a patronising tone. The orchestra is the only professional chamber orchestra in Scandinavia. Their schedule is massive with some 130 concerts per year. Yet they find time to bring all their sheer professionalism to these miniatures. The production by Naxos is superb. The programme notes are quite comprehensive.

The two big names on this CD are Kurt Atterberg and Lars-Erik Larsson. Atterberg who was born at Goteborg in 1887 was a prolific composer. He has some five operas and nine symphonies and a similar number of orchestral suites to his credit. There are a smaller number of effective chamber works. The inspiration for much of his style was the works of Brahms and Hugo Alfvén. Atterberg's incidental music for Maeterlinck's play Soeur Beatrice was a typical example of the composer's lyrical and elegiac styles. There is even a touch of impressionism in these pages. The stage work originally was scored for violin, viola and organ. This music was worked up into the suite that is given on this CD. It is in three movements. The lyrical opening theme is exceptional. The violin is heard playing its melancholy song. The second movement is called 'Pantomim' (sic). There is a kind of chorale that gives a clue to the religious nature of its original source. The last movement is a 'valse triste'. Altogether extremely satisfying.

This is perhaps Atterberg's most frequently performed work. Perhaps this piece will lead people to listen to his symphonies, most of which are available variously on CPO and Sterling.

Lars-Erik Larsson was also a prolific composer with a large body of orchestral and chamber music in his catalogue. The Little Serenade is the earliest piece by Larsson on this CD. It is quite definitely a pastiche of the eighteenth century divertimento - yet the harmonies and modal melodies nod to the twentieth century. The composer wanted to pay his respects to Mozart. It is a beautifully wrought piece; the balance of the parts is perfect. This is a piece that should be in the programmes of all chamber orchestras.

The same composer's Adagio for Strings is a troubled piece. The programme notes suggest that there may have been some hidden emotional programme to this music, but what that might have been is no longer discoverable. That being said it is a fine piece of string writing, which reveals in the music a certain sorrow and pain. However, the heart is eased in the closing moments. The final piece by Larsson on this disc is his Lyric Fantasy. This was composed to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the publishers Gehrman.

Gunnar de Frumerie was born in the capital Stockholm in 1908. He was both a composer and a pianist. He has written much chamber music. However there are also two piano concerti and a set of Symphonic Variations. Frumerie was a musical conservative. He kept to a romantic style when all around were searching for a 'modern' sound. His Pastoral Suite is a splendid example of his technique. Quite content to utilise forms from the musical past, he gives a reworking of an earlier work for flute and piano. There are five short movements - Preludium, Gavott (sic), Saraband, Siciliano and Final. I certainly would like to hear more of this composer's music. Especially the Piano concerti.

Ture Rangström was noted for his songs. He composed over 200. However he also wrote a wealth of orchestral music - both symphonic and concerted. He is the eldest composer on this CD having been born in Stockholm in 1884. The Divertimento Elegiaco was composed during the last days of the First World War. It is a four-movement work. To this listener there is nothing of 'light music' about this piece. The hues are dark; the sentiments are sad. In some ways it reminds me of post-Great War Frank Bridge.

The last composer represented on this disc is a bit of a maverick. Karl-Birger Blomdahl was one of Sweden's most important composers. There is a definite sea change in his musical style. His earlier works were much influenced by Nielsen and Hindemith. In his later works he began to adopt a somewhat more modernistic idiom. He even made a limited use of electronics. However he never lost the ability to be lyrical. He has much symphonic music to his credit including three symphonies. The piece recorded on this CD is taken from the incidental music he wrote for the play by Helge Akerhielm - The Wakeful Night. It is a romantic piece; there is little trace of the avant-garde. Slow and deliberate. the piece is constructed in an arch. The climaxes are well stated. This is a little gem.

Swedish Orchestral Favourites Volume 2 should be on every listener's shelf - alongside Volume 1 that features more music by the Swedish masters. It is time that we explored the whole range of musical achievement in the Europe where we all live and have our interwoven heritages. This is an ideal CD to begin or to continue this exploration.

John France

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