If it is good enough for Gustavo Dudamel...

In 117 years of Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall there have been no performances of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar's two Piano Concertos and just a single performance of one of his two Symphonies. But interestingly the Interlude from Stenhammar's cantata The Song [Sången] Op 44 was performed by none other than Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and the YouTube clip above shows Dudamel rehearsing the composer's masterpiece, the Second Symphony, with the same orchestra.

Both the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Interlude from The Song feature in a new 3 CD set from Dutch super-budget label Brilliant Classics, albeit without Dudamel. The new multibox makes available at a very low price BIS's pioneering vinyl releases of Stenhammar orchestral music which included the LP seen below. In these much praised recordings, which span the years 1982 to 1992, Neeme Järvi conducts the Gothenburg band in the two Symphonies and the Second Piano Concerto with Cristina Ortiz as soloist. His son Paave conducts the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Love Derwinger in the First Piano Concerto, and the generously filled discs include five other Stenhammar works.

Stenhammar's First Piano Concerto (1893) and First Symphony (1903) are both derivative and lean heavily on Bruckner and Brahms/Tchaikovsky respectively, and the composer later distanced himself from them. After the initial success of the First Piano Concerto, which was championed by Richard Strauss and Hans Richter, Stenhammar, who also was an accomplished pianist, declined to perform the work again, while the Symphony was withdrawn without being assigned an opus number. But at a time when accessibility trumps originality it is difficult to understand why these two early works have failed to find a place on the BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM playlists.

By contrast Stenhammar's Second Symphony (1915) and one movement Second Piano Concerto (1907) are startlingly original works, but despite this they remain neglected both in the concert hall and recording studio. But is that about to change? Deutsche Grammophon have a new multi-CD box featuring Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra scheduled for autumn 2011 release. Repertoire is not yet confirmed, could it include Stenhammar's Second Symphony?

But back to the Brilliant Classics multibox. BIS recordings are famous for their sound quality and you only need to listen to the new transfers to understand why. Both the Symphonies are concert recordings and are none the worst for that. They are enhanced by retaining the hall ambiance betwen movements and also the final applause, as does another concert recording that I have been enjoying recently, Klaus Tennstedt's Mahler 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Which makes me question again whether LSO Live and other labels are doing the right thing topping and tailing concert recordings to make them sound like studio productions.

At £9.98 from Amazon for three glorious sounding CDs of Dudamel approved music the Brilliant Classics Stenhammar set is a no brainer. There is more background to the composer and the BIS recordings in my 2007 post Wilhelm Stenhammar - Excelsior!

Also on Facebook and Twitter. I bought the Brilliant Classics Stenhammar set online. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Andrew Morris said…
Thanks for the tip! One of the first piano works I knew was by Stenhammar and I've always noticed his name with an appreciative smile as a result.
JMW said…
We certainly don't need Dudamel's approval for this great music; it speaks for itself. Let's just hope Dudamel has something valuable to add to it.
Pliable said…
Thanks for that pithy observation John.

Funnily enough I heard Dudamel conduct the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Stenhammar's Interlude from the Song as an encore at Snape Maltings in 2008 and he did it rather well. But then I suspect the orchestra knows the piece so well they would probably sound good with me conducting it.

A post about the 2008 Snape Prom is here - http://www.overgrownpath.com/2008/08/classical-music-moves-on.html

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