Saturday, April 8, 2017

Franz Berwald - Symphonies (Neeme Järvi)


Information

Composer: Franz Berwald

CD1:
  1. Symphony No. 3 in C major "Singulière": I. Allegro fuocoso
  2. Symphony No. 3 in C major "Singulière": II. Adagio - Scherzo. Allegro assai
  3. Symphony No. 3 in C major "Singulière": III. Finale. Presto
  4. Symphony No. 2 in D major "Capricieuse": I. Allegro
  5. Symphony No. 2 in D major "Capricieuse": II. Andante
  6. Symphony No. 2 in D major "Capricieuse": III. Finale. Allegro assai
CD2:
  1. Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Naïve": I. Allegro risoluto
  2. Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Naïve": II. Adagio
  3. Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Naïve": III. Scherzo. Allegro molto
  4. Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Naïve": IV. Finale. Allegro vivace
  5. Symphony No. 1 in G minor "Sérieuse": I. Allegro con energia
  6. Symphony No. 1 in G minor "Sérieuse": II. Adagio maestoso
  7. Symphony No. 1 in G minor "Sérieuse": III. Stretto
  8. Symphony No. 1 in G minor "Sérieuse": IV. Adagio - Allegro molto

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor
Date: 1985
Label: Deutsche Grammophon


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Review

Franz Berwald is the ideal gramophone composer. His music offers welcome variety on the turntable and forms an attractive ingredient in broadcast programmes all over the world, but somehow does not exert a strong enough public appeal to receive more than passing attention in the major international concert halls outside his native Sweden. Unlike Sibelius, he never enjoyed the consistent advocacy of great conductors such as Beecham, Koussevitsky and more recently, Karajan, though Markevitch championed him briefly in the 1950s and recorded for DG in mono the Sinfonie singuliere and the E flat Symphony for the first time on LP with the Berlin Philharmonic (DGM18317, 1/57—nla). Of course, Berwald has neither the range nor the stature of a Sibelius, but he is incontrovertibly the leading Scandinavian symphonist of the period: only Svendsen in his two symphonies might be said to offer a challenge but though his ideas are enchanting, he is nowhere so individual in his approach to form.

Berwald remained in relative obscurity in his lifetime and only came into his own during the first decade or so of the present century, thanks largely to the championship of such figures as Tor Aulin and Wilhelm Stenhammar and because of their association with the latter, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra naturally have a long Berwald tradition. Indeed, it was the Gothenburg orchestra that recorded all but one of the symphonies on the Radiotjanst label in the days of 78s.

The last set of the symphonies came, together with the tone poems and the two concertos, in an admirable HMV boxed set from the RPO under Ulf Bjorlin (SLS5096, 10/mm—nla). These were recorded during a summer heatwave, a rare phenomenon in London, and though they were very much better than nothing, they were a little under-energized. The present set outclasses not only the Bjorlin version but most previous rivals. First, the orchestral playing has abundant spirit and energy: this is music that is wholly in the orchestra's bloodstream. Secondly, the excellent acoustics of the Gothenburg Hall (and the expertise of Michael Bergek's engineering) shows the scores to better advantage even than Decca's Kingsway Hall record of the Singuliere and the E flat with Sixten Ehrling and the LSO (SXL6374, 11/68—nla). Neeme Jarvi sets generally brisk tempos: the first movement of the Singuliere is faster than I have ever heard it before. He takes it at about a minim = 92, as opposed to Markevitch at approximately 84 and Ehrling's 78. As a result the opening loses something of its poetry, and the poco stringendo at bar 123 and elsewhere in the movement sounds rushed. But, of course, the marking is Allegro fuocoso and the final timing (10'30'') does not differ substantially from Berwald's proscribed 11'00''. Equally, the finale is Presto and again Jarvi is a good deal faster than Ehrling (minim = c. 120) or Markevitch (minim = 126) at a breathtaking minim = 132, yet he persuades me he cannot be far off Berwald's intentions since he gets through the piece at 8'11'' (Berwald's autograph says that the piece should take about eight minutes).

The Capricieuse was the last of the four to reach the light of day: a performing edition prepared by Ernst Ellberg was given in Stockholm early in 1914 under the baton of Sibelius's brother-in-law, Armas Jarnefelt. A subsequent edition by the doyen of Berwald scholars, Nils Castegren was prepared in time for the Berwald Centenary Celebrations in 1968 and it is this that has been used since. Jarvi's mercurial account is on the fast side but is exhilarating and fresh. It totally outclasses its predecessors, Dorati and the Stockholm Philharmonic (RCA VICS1319, 11/68—nla) and Bjorlin on HMV. Although the Capricieuse is not the finest of the symphonies, Jarvi almost convinces us that it is. His performance has real muscle and although tempos are again fast, there is a firm grip and a purposeful momentum. The slow movement is surely too fast (Berwald's autograph speaks of ''about 8 minutes'': Jarvi takes 6'55'') yet I have to say that its distinctive eloquence is not lost.

Only one of Berwald's symphonies, the Sinfonie serieuse was performed in his own lifetime: his masterpiece, the Sinfonie singuliere had to wait 60 years before it was first given by Tor Aulin. But it's worth remembering that in the 1840s and 1850s there was no really first-class symphony orchestra in Sweden to play them, in fact, no permanent concerts on any regular basis until the 1870s. I can't imagine that the Serieuse has had many more purposeful or powerful performances than this—even if it is a bit too fast. Berwald's next and last symphony was finished only a month later (April 1845) and is the only one without a title. He did at one time consider calling it ''Sinfonie naive'', though it is anything but that in its construction, indeed it is one of the sunniest and most subtle of Berwald's scores. However, the autograph is enscribed ''Symphony No. 4 in E flat'' and although Berwald through the Swedish Embassy in Paris tried to interest Auber in the score, it remained unperformed until 1878.

The sound in all four symphonies is altogether first rate: very detail comes through with great clarity and presence. On Compact Disc, of course, this set has the field to itself and on LP and cassette, the only rival is listed above.

-- Robert Layton, Gramophone

More reviews:
http://www.classical-music.com/review/berwald-9
http://www.amazon.com/Berwald-4-Symphonies-Franz/dp/B00000E31W

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Franz Berwald (23 July 1796 – 3 April 1868) was a Swedish Romantic composer. Berwald's music was not recognised favourably in Sweden during his lifetime, even drawing hostile newspaper reviews, but fared a little better in Germany and Austria. He made his living as an orthopedic surgeon and later as the manager of a saw mill and glass factory. Among four symphonies, his best known works, the first was the only one that was performed in his lifetime. His Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, "Naïve", was premiered in 1878, ten years after Berwald's death.

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Neeme Järvi (born June 7, 1937 in Tallinn) is an Estonian conductor. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory under Yevgeny Mravinsky and Nikolai Rabinovich, among others. He made over 400 recordings for labels such as BIS, Chandos and Deutsche Grammophon and best known for his interpretations of Romantic and 20th century classical music. In 1982, he became the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, and held the post for 22 years, the longest-serving principal conductor in the orchestra's history.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neeme_J%C3%A4rvi

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