Forgotten gems from Bengt Hallberg and Joseph Dente

Hallberg and Dente are far from household names — even in their native Sweden. Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg spent most of his career in Landskrona, outside the cultural center of Sweden (read: Stockholm). Joseph Dente was a major musical figure in Stockholm, though his reputation and influence remained within the confines of the Royal College of Music.

And yet both composers created music of quality and beauty. Sterling presents three prime examples in this new release.

Bengt Hallberg (1824-1883) was primarily a church musician and hymnodist. In the 1850s he studied with Franz Berwald, who inspired him to expand his focus. His orchestral works — two overtures, a scherzo, and a symphony — come after this time.

The Concert Overture No. 2 in F major seems inspired by Beethoven, but with a softer edge. This 1853 work a little too serious to be a curtain-raiser, although it does have some lively moments.

Hallberg’s 1870 Symphony is a more successful work, I think. Hallberg seems more comfortable writing for the orchestra. Hallberg sounds closer to Mendelssohn and Schumann in this work. His melodic material is strongest in the slow movement.

The Malmö Symphony Orchestra directed by Per Engström perform both works. These are 1984 radio broadcast recordings. The performances are fine, but the details are a little muddy.

The 1887 Symphony in D minor by Joseph Dente fairs better. This broadcast performance with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ola Karlsson comes from 1992. The sound is much cleaner and clearer, although still a bit compressed.

I think Dente’s symphony is also a stronger work. It even placed third in an international competition. Dente combines Beethoven’s motivic development with Brahms’ harmonies. It works and works well. Dente was also a violinist, and that first-hand knowledge informs his orchestration.

While these works might not be first rank, they are well-crafted and well-played. And I found them quite enjoyable. You may too!

Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg/Joseph Dente: Orchestral Works
Malmö Symphony Orchestra; Per Engström, conductor
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ola Karlsson, conductor
Sterling CDS 1120

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