Composer: Franz Berwald
Orchestra: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Neeme Jarvi
Number of Discs: 2
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Size: 430 MB
Sinfonie singuliere (No. 3) in C major
1. Allegro fuocoso
2. Adagio – Scherzo. Allegro assai
3. Finale: Presto
Sinfonie capricieuse (No. 2) in D major
6. Finale. Allegro assai
Sinfonie No.4 in E flat major
1. Allegro risoluto
3. Scherzo. Allegro molto
4. Finale. Allegro vivace
Sinfonie serieuse (No. 2) in G minor
5. Allegro con energia
6. Adagio maestoso
A set of considerable stature even after over 25 years
This set of two discs, very well recorded in 1985 and still sounding well, was one of first of many recordings that Jarvi made with this orchestra having just departed from his Scottish orchestra and Chandos. That series of recordings had been notable for vibrancy, enthusiasm and the sense of fresh exploration and this the start of this new venture carried over many of those characteristics.
The choice of program, Berwald symphonies, was probably a wise choice and a great help in creating that continuing sense of fresh discovery. Berwald’s symphonies and chamber music were still relatively uncharted waters at that time and both Jarvi and his new colleagues had much to play for in terms of creating a new performing and recording partnership.
These four recordings have stood the test of time totally successfully. They have also withstood the increasing pressure and competition from a number of recorded Berwald cycles since then. Of those, perhaps the most challenging is the one made by Sixten Ehrling on Bis and which also includes on its two discs the totally enjoyable Bassoon concerto played superbly by Christian Davidssohn. That excellent survey follows on from Ehrling’s renowned earlier recording of two the the symphonies on Decca with the LSO. His new recording is of top quality offering different satisfactions to Jarvi’s which is rather more driven, lively and more obviously out for excitement.
All of Berwald’s music shows a unique touch of humour, a strong lyrical line and much imagination skilfully applied. The symphonies may be seen as the pinnacle of his work but that is to do his concertante works and his chamber works a considerable disservice.
I would suggest that the set by Jarvi is an obvious choice for the newcomer to Berwald’s individual world to consider as a purchase. I would equally suggest that Ehrling’s survey is equally essential for seasoned collectors. As is so often the case, there is plenty of reason to suppose that owning complementary sets, in this case both Jarvi and Ehrling, are the best of all options. The music is certainly worth it. Additionally, both of these sets are preferable to the musically less perceptive and less rewarding alternatives on the competing Naxos and Chandos labels.