Berwald: Symphony No. 1 in G minor (Sérieuse); Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Naïve)

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COMPOSERS: Berwald
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in G minor (Sérieuse); Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Naïve)
PERFORMER: San Francisco SO/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 436 597-2 DDD
The Swede Franz Berwald (1796-1868) was rarely taken seriously as a composer in his lifetime (his daytime jobs ranged from managing a glass works to running an orthopaedic institute). His four extant symphonies – all dating from 1842-5 and now regarded as his most significant achievements – have only belatedly won recognition. The two heard here show his musical energy and his individual use of the orchestra, as well as what (with aural hindsight) one might characterise as Nordic traits – the airy, wide-open spaces of the scoring, for instance. But in spite of its symphonic cogency, Berwald’s music can sound thinly spread, the quality of his thematic invention variable.

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The manner of the Sinfonie sérieuse is early-Romantic, like a rougher-hewn version of Mendelssohn. The Sinfonie naïve is – ironically, given its title – the more sophisticated and even self-consciously academic of the two, with some suggestions of the Eroica and a finale in Mendelssohn’s best scherzo vein.

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The San Francisco musicians provide clean playing under their Swedish conductor, who maintains tension well; but the sound quality suffers from a lack of presence in the quieter passages. George Hall