Bengt Wilhelm Hallberg & Joseph Dente: Orchestral Works

Represented on this disc are two Swedish composers from the late 19th century, who despite contemporary recognition usually do not count among the still enduring and current. Joseph Dente, after having taken the position as Master of the The Royal Court Orchestra, reached the highest rank a composer could then get in Sweden, when he in 1882 became teacher in composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. In the case of Bengt Wilhelm Hallberg it was certainly quite simply his daily activities in the “small town” Landskrona (in the southern province Skåne) – he was not visible from the out-look of Stockholm, where “everything happened”, and a few occasional successes in Copenhagen did not give any greater reputation further north. But above all, the opportunities to get their music noticed, performed and printed were extremely limited, particularly for those composers who wanted to write orchestral and chamber music – still there was only one single professional orchestra in Sweden, The Royal Court Orchestra. It is therefore hardly surprising that composers in symphonic format were comparatively few; both Hallberg and Dente remained “non-recurrent symphonists”.


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Here is a disc I wanted to hear because it presented music that had been chosen by Bo Hyttner’s Sterling label. After all, Sterling have done so much for Europe’s romantic music. Indeed, the present disc is in Sterling’s Swedish Romantics stable. These two largely nineteenth-century Swedish composers are “early” and quite unknown - at least to me. We hear them in performances and tapes that sound enjoyably respectable if not of elite standards and which I take to be from Swedish Radio. Sterling are to be trusted in these things...

Hallberg’s brand of brassy, triumphant heroism tickles the ear agreeably... The first of these is a Symphony again by Hallberg and this dates from the second decade after his overture. It’s still recognisably in the same Beethovenian style as the overture. There are Jovian heights to be scaled in the opening Allegro but it ends in passive understatement before a stately and aspiring Menuetto scherzando that also ends amid a confidence that is quiet and feels unnerving. The Adagio (III), which is unexpectedly the shortest movement, swirls with modesty and grace. These qualities also distinguish the final bars of the previous two movements. The finale is a Scherzando e molto vivace which nicely counterpoints the lively pages of Beethoven symphonies 7 and 8 and Mendelssohn’s symphony 3. It’s not the most original of artefacts but within an expected style it does not waste your time.

Joseph Dente rose to seniority in the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and also in various conductor positions with orchestras in the capital city. His pupils included Hägg, Munktell, Olsson, Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar. His Symphony steps up from Hallberg’s example at least two orders of magnitude in the originality stakes. What he does is smooth yet not bland. There’s still a Beethovenian edge but Dente’s writing for woodwind stands out from the brooding gouache. Also, there are moments (try 6:40 in the first movement) where a Swedish nationalist flavour assets itself. A short Weber-like Scherzo follows. It is tempest-shaken and incessantly insistent. Ola Karlsson drives the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra pitilessly but his mind-set is not all blast and velocity. The superbly judged and recorded pizzicato at the end of the Andante (III) will convince you on that count. The joyous musculature of the finale (Allegro vivace) which is driven with spark-flying vivacity rounds things out really well.

The liner-notes are entrusted to the veteran hands and sagacious judgement of Lennart Hedwall. They do not disappoint and are all the more significant with a disc presenting two composers airlifted out of the bleakest of obscurity. There was room for another twenty minutes of works from this era in Sweden’s cultural history. Without taking away from the value of and pleasure in what we are introduced to it’s a pity that more was not included.

- Rob Barnett

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