Stenhammar: Symphony No. 2; Excelsior!

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Stenhammar
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Excelsior!
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553888
This attractive, accessible music deserves to be much better known and Swedish conductor Petter Sundkvist gives persuasive and vibrant readings of his fellow countryman’s works. Stenhammar’s Second Symphony dates from 1911-15. It is very Nordic in style with lots of character and spirit. There are influences of Wagner and Brahms as well as Sibelius and Nielsen (whom he admired). The music of the Symphony is often heroic and the melodies are strong and muscular – especially in the outer movements. The second movement, an Andante, is elegiac – beautifully soothing like soft lapping waters. The finale, unusually, is the longest movement of all. For the most part it is energetic and buoyant and it is distinguished by an impressively planned complex of fugues and fugato passages. The title Excelsior! suggests the natural striving of a young artist (Stenhammar was 27 when it was first performed in 1897), although Stenhammar hinted at its programme by quoting from Goethe’s Faust, intimating that it represents a striving upwards in search of the light and the meaning of life as opposed to a downward pull towards carnal pleasure. The music, reminiscent of Elgar and Richard Strauss, certainly surges ardently upwards and the RSNO plenty of fire and passion. Very entertaining. Ian Lace

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