Brahms, Stenhammar

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Stenhammar
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Serenade No. 1 in D
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25327-2
The Stenhammar is a glorious work, rich in melodic invention and harmonic subtlety, full of fantasy and imagination. Nothing more perfectly enshrines the spirit of the Swedish summer night than its ‘Notturno’. But the level of inspiration throughout is consistently high and it is puzzling that it has not established itself in the international repertoire, though Kubelík championed it on LP in the Sixties. Davis shapes the score with scrupulous attention to detail, and evident sensitivity and feeling. This more than holds its own with Neeme Järvi on BIS though the latter offers the ‘Reverenza’ movement that Stenhammar eventually (and rightly) discarded when he transposed the outer movements from E major to F. The Serenade, I would venture to suggest, is not only Stenhammar’s masterpiece but arguably the greatest orchestral work Sweden produced in the last century.

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Stenhammar’s early debt to Brahms (he was a noted exponent of the D minor Concerto) lends the coupling a certain logic. It finds the Stockholm orchestra in its finest and most responsive form. The merits of Boult’s Brahms are well-known and the reappearance of his two Serenades (which, with Janet Baker’s Alto Rhapsody, was reissued as recently as 1996 in the same coupling) is to be warmly welcomed. Those who already have the Stenhammar and do not want to duplicate it might well consider this competitively priced issue. Robert Layton