STENHAMMAR: Serenade; Excelsior!; Interlude from “The Song” – Royal Flemish Philharmonic/ Christian Lindberg – BIS multichannel SACD BIS-2058, 58:19 (Distr. by Naxos) [6/3/14] ****:

Stenhammar started out as a great admirer of German music of the time, particularly Wagner and Bruckner. His 1896 Execelsior! concert overture illustrates this aspect of his compositions. Truly rooted in German culture, it did not get a rousing premiere and disappeared from performance for over 70 years. Stenhammar was also heavily into Goethe as a student in Berlin, and quotes some lines from Faust as a motto in the overture.

In the early 1920s Stenhammar started work on the cantata The Song for the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The large-scale work uses four soloists and a large adult choir plus a children’s choir. One reviewer compared it to Mahler’s Eighth. While it has been rarely performed since its premiere, the six-minute Interlude from the cantata is often played separately and has become one of the composer’s most frequently performed pieces.

The Serenade in F Major of 1914-19 is a very substantial Stenhammar work of 37 minutes length. The composer insisted on the Italian names for the six sections of the work. They are: “Overtura, Canzonetta, Scherzo, Notturno” and “Finale.” The “Finale” is at nine minutes the longest movement of the Serenade. Although the fourth movement “Notturo” has a supposed Florentine inspiration, it sounds like the evocation of a Nordic summer evening. The “Finale” is quite orchestral and symphonic, with a lively and fresh feeling. It uses the rather new instrument to the orchestra, the pedal timpani. Stenhammar did write two piano concertos and was regarded as the finest Swedish pianist of his time, but that aspect of this compositional writing is not in evidence here.

BIS’s 96K/24 original surround recordings come across well in this multichannel hi-res SACD.

—John Sunier