Berwald: Sinfonie singulière; Sinfonie capricieuse; Symphony No. 4; Sinfonie sérieuse

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COMPOSERS: Berwald
LABELS: DG Masters
WORKS: Sinfonie singulière; Sinfonie capricieuse; Symphony No. 4; Sinfonie sérieuse
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 445 581-2 DDD Reissue
Berwald (1796-1868) is to Sweden what Grieg is to Norway or Sibelius to Finland; but whereas Grieg and Sibelius are familiar everywhere, Berwald is still more or less unknown outside his own country. It’s hard to see why, on the evidence of these recordings of the symphonies. They are full of sharply etched, memorable ideas, in a fresh, cleanly orchestrated idiom not too far from Mendelssohn and Schubert. It’s far enough, though, to be highly individual, with surprising pre-echoes of later composers.

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There’s an endearing impetuosity about this music which needs a light hand and brisk tempi. Neither of these are forthcoming from Ivor Bolton, whose deliberate tempi and heavy sound seem designed to make Berwald appear important. Kamu’s tempi are very similar, but the touch is lighter and altogether more successful – and his discs have the bonus of the quirky and charming Piano Concerto.

Järvi seems more in tune with the pulse-beat of the music. His speeds are certainly brisker, and the ample sound and full-blooded attack bring out the budding Romanticism of the music.

The Goodman by comparison seemed a little wiry and ungenerous; but the more I listened, the more I warmed to its clear textures and alert rhythms, and the way it points up details without exaggerating them. Added to which, Goodman gives you much more music; his set includes the early symphonic fragment as well as two delightful overtures.

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Goodman’s version brings out the sprightly, energetic side of the composer; Kamu’s is equally winning, but in a more meditative and softly-tinted way. Ivan Hewett