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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Piano Pieces
see track listing below review
Cassandra Wyss (piano)
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, 3-5 November 2011
CAPRICCIO C5117 [62:02]

A few years younger than their Nordic contemporaries Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius none of the three leading Swedish composers of this period, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfvén, managed to acquire an international standing of the same calibre as the Dane and the Finn. P-B and Alfvén became, and still are, household names in Sweden, the former through his piano pieces and his songs, the latter through his colourful orchestral music - the Midsummer’s Vigil in particular - and also some songs. Stenhammar was more elusive and even today he is a bit exclusive. His music was never ‘folksy’ but connoisseurs regard his G minor symphony, the Serenade for orchestra, the second piano concerto, his six string quartets and some very noble songs as la crème de la crème of Swedish music from the first decades of the 20th century.
 
Though Stenhammar was a brilliant pianist he wrote comparatively little for piano: five sonatas - the first completed in 1880 when he was 9, and only the fifth and last from 1895 allotted an opus number - the three fantasies and Sensommarnätter. In other words his complete mature oeuvre is on this CD. Sensommarnätter was published in 1914 but written considerably earlier, probably around the turn of the century.
 
The fantasies are indebted to Brahms and Schumann though clearly individual in utterance. The best known is No. 1, Molto appassionato, and Cassandra Wyss’s reading is strongly impassioned with admirable clarity and forward movement. In No. 2, Dolce scherzando, she seems too relaxed, which the playing time also tells us. Wyss takes 6:05 while Mats Widlund does it in 4:07 without in the least feeling rushed. Wyss seems to stress the dolce whereas Widlund, rightly stresses scherzando. There is a marked difference also in the third fantasy, Molto espressivo e con intimissimo: Wyss 6:08, Widlund 4:40. Here, though, Wyss’s weightier approach pays dividends. The playing is molto espressivo and this also includes heavier rubatos than those applied by Widlund. I still feel that his playing has a more natural flow but, by and large, Cassandra Wyss’s reading is valid too.
 
Sensommarnätter (Late Summer Nights) are more impressionist, maybe inspired by Grieg’s late piano works and Debussy. Though not strictly speaking programme music - there are no extra-musical titles - it is possible to imagine the approaching autumn storms in the Poco presto (No. 2) while No. 1 and No. 3 are reflective and rather melancholy wanderings through landscapes of ever-shifting harmonies, the flavours of ripe fields of wheat. No. 4, Presto agitato, seems to allude to flowing rivers. The concluding Poco allegretto, the best known of the five, feels wreathed in smiles of delight at the mild winds that still caress the cheeks but with a melancholy presage: the frosty days of autumn are not too far away.
 
If the fantasies are modelled on the romantics, the sonata is more classicist in outline. Of the four movements the nervously hastening second movement, Molto vivace, has a youthful energy and wry humour, even a kind of nonchalance that is compelling. The following Lento e mesto is solemn and stately, like a Gothic cathedral, a noble interlude between the scherzo and the joie de vivre of the finale, flamboyant but with patches of reflections. It is a pity that Stenhammar gave up writing piano sonatas, considering the quality of his mature orchestral works. This sonata points forward to great things.
 
Cassandra Wyss is technically accomplished and sensitive to nuance. With good recording and brief but informative liner-notes this is a valuable addition to Capriccio’s rapidly growing catalogue of piano recordings a little off the beaten track.
 
Göran Forsling 

Track Listing
Tre Fantasier, Op. 11 (Three Phantasies)
1. I. Molto appassionato [4:51]
2. II. Dolce scherzando [6:05]
3. III. Molto espressivo e con intimissimo [6:08]
Sensommarnätter, Op. 33 (Late Summer Nights)
4. I. Tranquillo e soave [4:55]
5. II. Poco presto [2:15]
6. III. Piano. Non troppo lento [3:32]
7. IV. Presto agitato [3:42]
8. V. Poco allegretto [3:43]
Piano Sonata in A-flat minor, Op. 12
9. Moderato, quasi andante [7:44]
10. Molto vivace [7:08]
11. Lento e mesto [2:38]
12. Finale. Allegro [8:55]

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