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Stenhammar: Romeo and Juliet – Suite; Reverenza; Two Sentimental Romances; Sången

Gothenburg Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Neeme Järvi (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Romeo and Juliet – Suite; Reverenza; Two Sentimental Romances; Sången (The Song)
Charlotta Larsson (soprano), Martina Dike (mezzo-soprano), Lars Cleveman (tenor), Fredrik Zetterström (baritone); Gothenburg Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
BIS BIS-2359 (hybrid CD/SACD)   67:08 mins


Listeners only familiar with Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar’s expansively endearing orchestral Serenade may be taken aback by the torrent of notes at the start of his 1921 symphonic cantata Sången (The Song). With an eloquent baritone surfing the orchestral waves, passionately singing of the ‘country of my songs’, we could almost be knee-deep in Wagner, one of Stenhammar’s early loves. The cantata’s second half, meanwhile, drifts toward Handel oratorios in a transfiguring polyphonic ferment, vividly captured by Neeme Järvi’s Gothenburg forces on this well-engineered recording. It’s a useful reminder not to put this late Romantic figure in a restrictive pigeon-hole.

A different shock might shake the bones during the suite of incidental music from a 1922 production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Forget the passion and drama brought to the subject by Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev; what we have here is a beautifully played series of archaic Renaissance dances and pastoral landscapes delicately painted in a cool Scandinavian light. Another surprise arrives with the brass-accented grotesqueries threaded through Reverenza, the discarded second movement of the Serenade. Only with the nostalgic but dignified Two Sentimental Romances, delightfully topped by the sweet-toned violin solos of Sara Trobäck, does Stenhammar snuggle up to conventions. Whatever the composer’s mood or manner, from full-throated vocal cries to intimate chamber delicacies, Järvi clearly believes in this music. So does the Gothenburg Symphony, the orchestra Stenhammar himself conducted from 1907 to 1922.


Geoff Brown