LUDVIG NORMAN: Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 54; TURE RANGSTRÖM: Ballad for Piano and Orchestra; ADOLF WIKLUND: Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 1 – Maria Verbaite, piano / NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra / B. Tommy Andersson – Sterling CDS 1095-2 [Distr. by Qualiton], 55:40 ****:
The Swedish label Sterling Records, founded by Bo Hyttner, is a constant source of discovery in the realm of Romantic composers, mostly from Northern Europe. It has introduced absolutely unkown works by composers that the average classical music lover may well have heard of—Joachim Raff, Franz Berwald, the tragically short-lived Norbert Burgmëller—as well of as a raft of composers who may never have shown up on your radar, such as the three Swedish gents on the current issue (although Rangström has certainly gotten his due on recordings in recent years). While all are represented here by short concerted works with piano, they’re nicely sorted nonetheless. Ludvig Norman’s Concert Piece, penned in 1850 but revised as late as 1880, seems to show the influence of both earlier and later Romantic masters along the Mendelssohn-Schumann-Brahms axis. Adolph Wiklund’s Concert Piece, written in 1903, is very much a fin-de-siècle work, with less Romantic sweep, more nostalgia and introspection. Finally, Ture Rangström’s work is the most individualistic, a late-Romantic piece with modernist overtones; though penned in 1909, it was revised as late as 1937.
Ludvig Norman studied piano with Jan van Boom, a Dutch-born student of Ignaz Moscheles, and composition with Julius Reitz, among others. While in Leipzig, he “attracted the attention of Robert Schumann” and later returned the favor; there are decidedly Schumannesque proclivities in Norman’s Concert Piece. Like the other composers on this disc, Ludvig Norman was prized as a conductor, directing the Royal Opera House after returning to Stockholm, a position that Adolf Viklund also held. Norman’s work has a dramatic bearing but with passages of idyllic lyricism. As I mention, the spirit of Schumann is strong in the work; some passages sound like they were cribbed from the older composer’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. But both the piano and orchestral writing show a definite advance on Schumann’s idiom and suggest Norman had been listening to later composers—for a Leipzig-trained musician, it would be hard to escape the influence of Brahms, heir apparent to that tradition.
Not only a composer and conductor but a skilled pianist, Adolf Wiklund shows more cosmopolitan tendencies. He studied in Stockholm and later, in Paris as a scholarship student. His rather languid Concert Piece of 1903, the year he went to Paris, may show the influence of Debussy, but if so, it is of the earlier, Romantic Debussy, not the path-finding Impressionist. In fact, it may be idle to try to pinpoint influences here. This is, however, a work of its time and sounds in spots a bit like Paderewski, in others like Elgar, of all people; I even hear what sound like a direct quote from the Siegfried Idyll. Anyway, Wiklund’s fulsome orchestration and virtuosic, highly idiomatic piano writing impress, even if this work is well shy of a masterpiece.
As I noted above, Rangström’s piece is the most modern sounding as well as the most individualistic—maybe even eccentric. That starts with the bit of Gaelic verse that Rangström included at the head of his score: “”Och’Lannan, son of Usnah, blew his willow flute, on the seashore: Listen, the seals call out blood-curdling legends, far darker than night.” But then he pulls his punches: Rangström also notes that “The motto of the ballad has no other object than to transmit a certain lyrical-dramatic tension of the legend’s dark character. No realistic programme exists.”
Be that as it may, the series of free variations of which the Ballad is composed have an almost cinematic spookiness to them that’s right out of the Romantic era—I think of Franck’s weird Les djinns (1884) for piano and orchestra. But the piano and orchestral writing show later influences, of course. The chromaticism goes well beyond even Franck’s forward-looking brand, and it seems to me that Rangström has heard (and liked what he heard in) the concerted works of Ravel and Prokofiev. Meanwhile, the orchestration sounds very up-to-date and could have been turned out by the likes of Alfvén or Respighi. Rangström’s Ballad is the one work on the program that you want to return to, and return to again, in order to experience and grasp all it has to offer.
While I have nothing to compare these performances to, I think I’m safe in saying it would be hard to better them. Conductor, composer, and teacher B. Tommy Andersson, a contemporary music specialist, has a ingrained sympathy for the music of his countrymen and of the Romantic era as well. And while NorrlandsOperan may be a new name to you, it is the official opera company of the northernmost Swedish land of Norrland and in its thirty-eight year history has been directed by notables such as Roy Goodman and Kristin Järvi. The playing throughout this disc is sterling, if you’ll excuse the pun. So, too, is the playing of young prize-winning pianist Aria Verbaute. She has the big technique that the Rangstrom and Wiklund require, as well as a fine Romantic sensibility.
Sterling’s sound engineers have done their typically fine work, this time at Norrland’s Umeâ Concert Hall. If you’re a fan of the Romantic-revival piano concertos that labels like Genesis and Hyperion have championed over the years, you’ll want to hear this very entertaining disc from Sterling.
Historic renderings of music from France