WORKS: The Battle of Leipzig; Concerto for Two Violins;The Queen of Golconda Overture; Estrella de Soria Overture
PERFORMER: Johannes Lörstad, Andreas Hagman (violin); Malmö Opera Orchestra/Niklas Willén
CATALOGUE NO: CDS-1051-2
On the face of it this is an exciting issue, with several Berwald premieres on this enterprising Sterling disc. Slaget vid Leipzig (The Battle of Leipzig) dates from 1828, the year after the Septet, while the Double Concerto and the Theme and Variations (1816-17) are really apprentice works. There is little hint of the strong musical personality we meet only a little later in the G minor Quartet (1818) or the early A major symphonic fragment (1820). Berwald and his younger brother were the soloists at the premiere of the Concerto and took the Theme and Variations on their tour to Finland and Russia in 1819. They are pleasant enough pieces though not particularly memorable.
Looking back to my 1956 book on Berwald I see I described The Battle of Leipzig as ‘one of his feeblest efforts’. Actually listening to it now for the first time, I find this verdict was quite on target, save for the poetic opening paragraphs. What follows, alas, is, by Berwald’s elevated standards crude, particularly the ending, quoting ‘God Save the Queen’, at that time the Swedish national anthem. The excerpts from The Queen of Golconda are new, and the Baletto movement has great charm. But the value of this issue is diminished by the orchestral playing, which is short on tonal lustre and elegance: the Malmö strings sound undernourished. Any of the rival accounts of the two overtures offer better orchestral playing. Robert Layton