Berwald was quite a character. Aside from being a composer, he operated a foot clinic in Berlin, and a sawmill in Sweden. In his youth, he knew Beethoven, and was on friendly terms with Mendelssohn, whose music his sometimes resembles. His curiosity about life in general carries over into his music, which is quirky, unpredictable, and full of harmonic and rhythmic surprises. His writing for orchestra is both delicate and effective, with an especially characterful use of woodwinds and brass that proclaims him as the first recognizable "Scandinavian" composer. He composed four symphonies, all of them worth a listen. If you're turned on by Mendelssohn or Schumann, then you'll love Berwald. These performances are excellent, and the price is unbeatable. --David Hurwitz
Similarly Requested CDs
T. Beers | Arlington, Virginia United States | 07/30/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You're in for a major discovery if you buy this first-rate - but ridiculously inexpensive - disc of Swedish Romantic composer Franz Berwald's first two symphonies. (A companion disc contains symphonies 3 & 4). David Hurwitz brackets Berwald (1798-1869) with Schumann and Mendelssohn. True, and the melodic and coloristic influences of the two Germans are obvious enough. But the other major influence on Berwald was Berlioz whose music surely inspired the Swedish composer's wonderfully quirky textures and rhythms. Berwald was an early Romantic and his music is almost verdantly fresh: to my mind, it constantly evokes the dappled light and shade of a northern forest in midsummer. There aren't many major nineteenth century composers remaining to be discovered, and Berwald is still too little known outside Scandinavia. Back in the '50s and '60s, his music found international champions in conductors like Igor Markevitch and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. But even they failed to ignite the enthusiastic reception that audiences eventually gave to mavericks like Bruckner, Mahler and Nielsen. Berwald isn't as great a composer as those three; his symphonies never strive to reach the stars. But, as compensation, they completely avoid the heaviness and portentousness of much later Romantic music. All four are thoroughly lovely and a joy to hear. And at the Naxos price, you can afford to take a (very small) chance. Performances, by a fine Swedish orchestra and gifted Finnish conductor, are completely idiomatic and the digital sound is fabulous. (As a bonus, this disc also includes the overture to Berwald's opera "Estrella di Soria." The companion disc includes, besides symphonies 3 and 4, Berwald's delightful piano concerto.) Go for it!"