Peterson-Berger: Frösöblomster

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COMPOSERS: Peterson-Berger
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Frösöblomster
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-925
From Julius Wender’s booklet notes, you get the impression that Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942) must have been a thoroughly nasty critic – ‘Sweden’s answer to César Cui’ (their answer to Hanslick, Shaw also?). He seems a progressively embittered, libellous, pro-German, tennis-playing Romantic-nationalist unable to ‘come to terms with not being a great composer’, a miniaturist with delusions of grandeur. Today he’s chiefly remembered for his choruses and songs (some of the latter recorded by Anne Sofie von Otter and Nicolai Gedda). His ten Wagnerian ‘music dramas’ and programme symphonies written between 1889 and 1933 suggest, however, that he could think (and occasionally even achieve) big. He translated Zarathustra and Tristan into Swedish.

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Frösö, a large island in Lake Storsjön about 400 miles north of Stockholm, was favourite Peterson-Berger country. His three books of Frösö Flowers (1896, 1900 and 1914, the final collection subtitled ‘Humoresques and Idylls’) comprise 21 mood pictures, variously reminiscent of Grieg, MacDowell and Grainger – Brahms, too (the finale chorale of the First Symphony ghosting No. 6, ‘At Frösö Church’). Here is intimate music, memorable in idea and rhythm, marvellously imagined for the instrument. Not a note jars, not a phrase outstays its welcome: this is the art of cameo at its most exquisite. Ogawa gives a poetically refined, conceptually taut reading, full of imagery and charm, delicacy yet fullness. These must have been happy recording sessions. What, you wonder, might she do with Cyril Scott or John Ireland? Ates Orga