Bengt Forsberg: Neglected Works for Piano
‘Neglected Works for Piano’ is all that the front of Bengt Forsberg’s new CD reveals. The fact that they’re all women composers, of varying degrees of obscurity, only becomes plain from the tracklist – a gratifyingly understated approach in an age obsessed with positive-discrimination box-ticking.
Forsberg has long been a master programme planner – how could he be otherwise, having spent so many years sharing a concert platform with the inimitable Anne Sofie von Otter? This is no exception. We begin with Vítězslava Kaprálová, one of the great ‘what ifs’, who died in 1940 at just 25 from TB. She was a pupil of Martinů and shares his rhythmic verve in the four April Preludes. What’s also striking is her sureness of voice, the pieces by turn folk-imbued, punchy and wistful, ending with a rhythmically inventive, incisive Vivo. Forsberg follows this with Amy Beach’s Scottish Legend, which also draws on folk influences, though to very different effect. Another strikingly mature work is the Sonatina by Doreen Carwithen (later to be Mrs Alwyn), the product of her twenties, with a scintillating slow movement full of textures that glisten in the air, making the most effective of contrasts with the muscular, toccata-like finale.
Other highlights? There are many, from the Chopinesque Valse élégiaque of Valborg Aulin, raptly played by Forsberg, to the B minor Sonata of another Swede, Ruth Almén. She apparently devoted much of her life to teaching but, as Forsberg speculates in his lively notes, ‘she seems to have been a singular, strong-willed woman with no wish to please her audiences, if there ever were any.’ It’s a work of great passion and virtuosity, framed by frenetically driven outer movements. Grażyna Bacewicz is one of the better-known figures here and the ‘Oberek’ that concludes her Sonatina is infectiously brilliant – and sits surprisingly comfortably alongside the Tailleferre D major Pastorale that follows it. The disc ends with Ruth Crawford Seeger’s splendidly craggy Sixth Prelude, a work of great power in spite of its brief duration. With a recording as fine as the pianism, this is a terrific disc, heartily recommended.