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Bengt Wilhelm HALLBERG (1824-1883)
Concert Overture for Orchestra, No. 2 in F Major (c.1853) [7:37]
Symphony in F Major (c.1870) [23:46]
Joseph DENTE (1838-1905)
Symphony in D Minor (1887) [23:35]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Per Engström (Hallberg)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ola Karlsson (Dente)
rec. 1984/1992
STERLING CDS1120-2 [54:58]

Here is a disc I wanted to hear because it presented music that had been chosen by Bo Hyttner’s Sterling label. After all, Sterling have done so much for Europe’s romantic music. Indeed, the present disc is in Sterling’s Swedish Romantics stable. These two largely nineteenth-century Swedish composers are “early” and quite unknown - at least to me. We hear them in performances and tapes that sound enjoyably respectable if not of elite standards and which I take to be from Swedish Radio. Sterling are to be trusted in these things.

Hallberg, who studied with Berwald, laboured in Landskrona (in the province of Skåne) which, for the rest of the world’s purposes, is much the same as regional obscurity. Is his music anything to write home about? Well, this Concert Overture is a bright and ebullient little piece in the patterns of Beethoven’s Egmont and Coriolan. Hallberg’s brand of brassy, triumphant heroism tickles the ear agreeably. Strange that there should be a Brucknerian grand pausa for no readily apparent reason just a couple of minutes before the end. After the Overture come two four-movement 24- minute symphonies. The first of these is a Symphony again by Hallberg and this dates from the second decade after his overture. It’s still recognisably in the same Beethovenian style as the overture. There are Jovian heights to be scaled in the opening Allegro but it ends in passive understatement before a stately and aspiring Menuetto scherzando that also ends amid a confidence that is quiet and feels unnerving. The Adagio (III), which is unexpectedly the shortest movement, swirls with modesty and grace. These qualities also distinguish the final bars of the previous two movements. The finale is a Scherzando e molto vivace which nicely counterpoints the lively pages of Beethoven symphonies 7 and 8 and Mendelssohn’s symphony 3. It’s not the most original of artefacts but within an expected style it does not waste your time.

Joseph Dente rose to seniority in the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and also in various conductor positions with orchestras in the capital city. His pupils included Hägg, Munktell, Olsson, Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar. His Symphony steps up from Hallberg’s example at least two orders of magnitude in the originality stakes. What he does is smooth yet not bland. There’s still a Beethovenian edge but Dente’s writing for woodwind stands out from the brooding gouache. Also, there are moments (try 6:40 in the first movement) where a Swedish nationalist flavour assets itself. A short Weber-like Scherzo follows. It is tempest-shaken and incessantly insistent. Ola Karlsson drives the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra pitilessly but his mind-set is not all blast and velocity. The superbly judged and recorded pizzicato at the end of the Andante (III) will convince you on that count. The joyous musculature of the finale (Allegro vivace) which is driven with spark-flying vivacity rounds things out really well.

The liner-notes are entrusted to the veteran hands and sagacious judgement of Lennart Hedwall. They do not disappoint and are all the more significant with a disc presenting two composers airlifted out of the bleakest of obscurity. There was room for another twenty minutes of works from this era in Sweden’s cultural history. Without taking away from the value of and pleasure in what we are introduced to it’s a pity that more was not included.

Rob Barnett

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