Swedish Smorgasbord a feast of orchestral discoveries

Every person has a story. And every country has a musical tradition. In the 1970s Bo Hyttner ran the Sterling record store in Stockholm. He could see that Sweden’s musical story wasn’t being told. Classical labels would occasionally have the popular movement from Lars Erik Larsson’s “Winter’s Tale,” but little else.

Sten Frykberg was conducting the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in an all-Swedish music program. A customer suggested Hyttner record the concert, and he did. And then recorded more.

From 1976 to 1981 the Sterling label recorded and released Swedish orchestras playing their country’s repertoire. Selections ranged from the Baroque (Johan Agrell’s 1740 Sinfonia in F) to the modern (Sven-Eric Johanson’s 1963 Variations on a grouse lek of Värmland).

Since that time, other labels have discovered Sweden’s rich heritage. Lars-Erik Larsson and Hugo Alfven are now well-represented, with recordings on several labels. But there are a lot more composers on this release still awaiting discovery by audiences outside of Scandinavia.

These recordings were originally released on LP. The sound quality is very good (for the most part). The sound has the slight soft-focus of analog recordings, rounding off the extreme registers. But that’s not a complaint. They’re simply products of their time.

The ensembles turn in first-rate performances. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra have all built up impressive recording libraries over the years. This release shows that their high standards of performance were always in place.

The one exception is the recording of Bo Linde’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This is a mono recording of a live concert given in 1955. It’s an important recording, as the composer performs as a soloist.

But neither the sound quality nor the playing is very good. The mono sound didn’t especially bother me, although a lot of the finer details of the sound were muddied. Even muddier was the playing  of Gävleborgs Orkesterförening. Serious intonation problems throughout the work, plus ragged entrances and attacks really detracted from the listening experience. Bo Linde’s performance was on another level entirely. This is why I agree with including the recording with this release.

If you’re new to Swedish classical music, this collection is a great place to start. The sound quality may be a little dated, but most of the music heard here is timeless.

The Swedish Smorgasbord in Orchestral Music
Music by Johan Agrell, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Hugo Alfven, Ruben Liljefors, Adolf Wiklund, Lars-Erik Larsson, Sven Sköld, Albert Hennerberg, Bo Linde, and Sven-Eric Johanson

Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Sten Frykberg, conductor
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Björn Hallman, conductor; Erik Saedén, baritone
Gävle Symphony Orchestra; Göran W. Nilson, conductor
Västerås Symphony Orchestra; Harry Damgaard, conductor; Antonio Nicolini, violin
Gävleborgs Orkesterförening; Gunnar Staern, conductor; Bo Linde, piano

Sterling CDS1129
2 CD Set

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