Stenhammar: Serenade in F major, Op 31; Excelsior!, Op 13; Sången (The Song), Op 44 – Interlude

Reviewed on Thu 07 Aug, 2014

Listened to back-to-back, Sweden’s two Romantic masters Franz Berwald (1796-1868) and Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) have at least one thing in common: both confound musical expectations, not least through a whole roster of highly original ideas. Stenhammar’s five-movement Serenade in F was designed to express a Nordic view of the South, but the upshot is about as Southern as Respighi’s Pines of Rome is Northern. The 'Scherzo' recalls Reger at his most playful, while the haunting 'Notturno' is full of harmonic twists that kept reminding me of Berwald’s magical Sinfonie singulière. Years ago, Rafael Kubelík made a gorgeous version of the Serenade but this new Royal Flemish recording also has much to offer, not least incisive playing, sensitively shaped phrasing of the slower music and a usefully dynamic recording. The fill-ups are terrific too, the ‘Interlude’ from Sången sounding like Bruckner in miniature, the symphonic overture Excelsior! an exhilarating onrush worthy of the youthful Richard Strauss.
–Rob Cowan