Wednesday 28 January 2015

Edwin Kallstenius is revealed as a composer well worth exploring on a new release of his symphonic works from CPO where Frank Beermann and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first class performances

The Swedish composer Edwin Kallstenius (1881-1967) studied at the Leipzig Conservatory before pioneering advanced techniques in Sweden, adapting 12 tone methods to forge an individual style that alternated between introspective romanticism and expressionist gestures. At various times he was music librarian at Swedish Radio, served on the Board of the Society of Swedish Composers and was on the board of the Swedish Performing Rights Society.

His works include five symphonies, concertos, chamber and instrumental works including eight string quartets as well as choral works.

It is Kallstenius’ symphonic works that feature on a new release from CPO with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Frank Beermann .

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Kallstenius’ Symphony No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 16 (1926 rev.1941) is performed here in its revised 1941 version. The original version was not premiered until 1928 at an afternoon concert in the Stockholm Concert Hall.

The Allegro ordinario has a pensive, slow opening with woodwind decorations, soon rising up before a hushed section for strings. Timpani point up the music as the brass becomes quietly prominent as the music moves through a variety of tempi and dynamics. This is beautifully scored music, particularly in the woodwind. Soon horns present a theme before the pensive quality of the opening returns. The music then finds a little more forward momentum, at times bursting out dynamically but reaching a quiet resigned coda. As an allegro it is certainly held firmly in check.

Pizzicato strings open the Intermezzo malinconico as a longer, bowed theme appears over the top, very much with a haunting quality. Soon the mood lightens as the strings bring a sunnier melody in a kind of trio section. The pizzicato basses return as the music returns to the atmosphere of the opening, hesitantly leading to a quiet coda.

Kallstenius lets the orchestra have its head in the opening of the Finale: Allegro con spirito as the music dashes forward in a lively fashion. It soon falls to a gently rhythmic, skipping tempo before the music becomes more dramatic.  Centrally there is an attractive section where the theme is shared around the orchestra before subsiding to a hushed, somewhat gloomy passage. However, the momentum soon picks up leading us to the coda.

There are many attractive aspects to this symphony. Kallstenius was certainly an accomplished orchestrator.

Kallstenius wrote four orchestral works bearing the title Sinfonietta. His Sinfonietta No. 2 in G Major, Op. 34 (1946) again had to wait for a performance, this time not until 1950 when it was broadcast by Swedish Radio with the Radio Orchestra conducted by Sten Frykberg.

Also in three movements Sinfonietta No. 2 the Pezzo capitale: Allegro moderato e lirico has a gentle opening on strings to which a bassoon and the rest of orchestra join in a relaxed theme. The music rises in drama occasionally but never too far from its relaxed nature before leading to a gentle conclusion.

As its marking suggests, the second movement Espressivo brings an expressively drawn string melody full of lovely orchestral rubato though retaining darker overtones.

The Finale gagliardo brings a lively theme with a rhythmic bounce taking the music forward. Soon there is a slower section that flows along before the opening tempo returns. When the slower music returns it is with a more fervent feel that, nevertheless, gives way to the livelier theme to lead to the resolute coda.

Musica Sinfonica, Op. 42 (1959) started life as a work for string orchestra as early as 1953. Kallstenius didn’t merely re-orchestrate the work in 1959 but undertook a complete re-write for small orchestra. Stig Jacobsson, in his booklet notes, tells us that it has not been possible to trace any performance of either version prior to this recording.

The Allegro marcato e con brio soon gains a decisive momentum before falling to a quieter, reflective passage. Once again Kallstenius’ fine orchestration with lovely woodwind contributions is most attractive. The music rises again with deliberate chords through some lovely string passages before again falling to a reflective section. Eventually one can hear the momentum slowly and subtly increasing as the music reaches the coda.

There is a free flowing melancholy opening to the Adagio poco religioso. Although the mood soon tries to lighten, pizzicato basses with a clarinet melody help to keep the sad air. The music later rises in drama before falling back. It tries to rise again but drops to a hushed section with an oboe leading the way to a quiet coda.

The final Allegro ordinario, ma brioso rises quickly to a decisive, forward moving allegro before quickly falling to a quiet section with brass appearing. The music rises again with a rhythmic element that sounds folk inspired. There is another quiet passage with woodwind weaving through the orchestra before moving quickly to a dynamic coda.

This is a composer well worth exploring especially in these first class performances from Frank Beermann and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes though with one or two clumsy moments in the English translation. 

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