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CD Review

Johan Severin Svendsen

  • Symphony #1 in D Major, Op. 4 (1867)
  • Symphony #2 in B Flat Major, Op. 15 (1877)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
Naxos 8.553898
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If you are not familiar with the work of Svendsen it is not unlike Mendelssohn or Schumann or early Tchaikovsky. In fact, while listening to Svenden's 2nd Symphony I recalled Tchaikovsky's 1st at several points. Actually, the Norwegian composer lived from 1840 to 1911 and was close to Grieg, whose symphony sounds very much like Svendsen's. In fact, on hearing Svendsen's 1st Symphony, Grieg banished his. Svendsen's symphonies are traditional, four movement affairs and don't break any new ground. The music is full of beautiful melodies which are occasionally memorable, like the lovely work in the third movement of Symphony #2. The writing for woodwinds is particularly delightful.

These same works were in my collection on a Musical Heritage Society CD (MHS 512493Z) with Neeme Järvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. As usual, Järvi sounds like he is in a hurry to catch a plane. Virtually every movement in his hands is faster, the finale in the second symphony is almost two minutes quicker. The sound on that disc is also not as full bodied as the Naxos alternative.

Engeset and his orchestra play as if they believe in this music. It has a tenderness and depth of meaning that eluded Järvi. In fact, at the end of the first symphony I muttered, "Now audience applauds wildly." The slightly slower tempi allows the music to breathe and develop. The sound, as I mentioned, is wonderful. While this may seem like a short review, and it is, there is little else I can think of to say. If you have the Järvi you really ought to hear this. If you don't you will be pleasantly surprised at this lesser-known composer.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II