Stenhammar: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Serenade in F; Excelsior!

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COMPOSERS: Stenhammar
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Serenade in F; Excelsior!
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 445 857-2 DDD
The Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) studied in Berlin with the von Bülow disciple Karl Heinrich Barth. In his day he enjoyed fame as a pianist and a conductor, being appointed artistic director of the Gothenburg SO in 1907. His finely crafted compositions suggest a strongly Romantic personality of German sensibility, touched by Nordic fantasies neither as antique as Sibelius’s nor as advanced as Nielsen’s.

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The present set brings together his main orchestral works: the youthful (more German than Swedish) symphonic overture Excelsior! , the Florentine-inspired Serenade (1911-13, rev 1919, according to its composer ‘the kind of beautiful poetry about the South of which only a Northerner is capable’), and the two symphonies (1902-3; 1911-15). All show particularly well his capacity as a symphonic dramatist, his command of large-scale form, and his idiomatic understanding of how to write for big orchestral forces. The First Symphony (‘idyllic Bruckner’ – his words), he withdrew on hearing Sibelius’s Second. Dedicated to the Gothenburg SO, the Second, audibly more Swedish than German, contrasts old folk dance and song with pages of Greek tragedy and archaic polyphony.

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Järvi and his players know this glorious music inside out (they’ve already recorded it for BIS), and no one will be disappointed with DG’s spectacular remake. Note, however, that in the Serenade the discarded Reverenza minuet (originally placed second) of the BIS version is omitted. Ates Orga