Blomstedt Conducts Stenhammar

Stenhammar cover

STENHAMMAR: Symphony No. 2. Serenade / Gothenberg Symphony Orch.; Herbert Blomstedt, cond / Bis SACD-2424

This is the next disc in what is apparently going to be a Stenhammar series for Bis, the first being the release of that composer’s symphonic cantata Sängen directed by the great Neeme Järvi. Here they’ve switched conductors to Herbert Blomstedt, who previous made some terrific recordings of the symphonies of Carl Nielsen with the San Francisco Symphony and Schubert with Staatskapelle Dresden.

Blomstedt has lost a little drive and energy over the years, but this is still a good performance of the Second Symphony, a somewhat interesting work if not on the high level of Sängen. Blomstedt produces clean lines and sharply-focused rhythmic accents that life the symphony out of the mundane and place it on a level with the music of Smetana. I say this despite the fact that Stenhammar was Swedish and Smetana Czech, as both were inspired by their country’s folk music in the construction of the melodic lines of their symphonies and tone poems. As usual, Bis’ sonics are very fine, here bringing out salient orchestral details with wonderful clarity, and they have achieved a minor miracle by stuffing this CD with 83 ½ minutes of music.

With the exception of some cute harmonic shifts in the third-movement “Scherzo,” however, this symphony is a somewhat predictable piece of music. The fugue in the last movement, however, adds some interest. Paradoxically, the essentially light-hearted Serenade, which preceded the symphony, has a much more interesting form, particularly in the first movement. Though tonal, the home key jumps around quite a bit due to Stenhammar’s ability to shift the tonality quickly. The composer also plays some cat-and-mouse games with the listener regarding rhythm, suddenly slowing down in unexpected places or stopping completely before resuming. This rhythmic playfulness continues in the second movement “Canzonetta,” and although the succeeding movements are a bit tamer, Stenhammar still manages to come up with clever ideas, such as the rhythm that suddenly increases and then backs up over itself in the “Scherzo.” Only the “Notturno” is rather more conventional despite a few little flute flutters.

Overall, then, good performances of late Romantic works, not on the level of Sängen but still well crafted.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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