STENHAMMER Serenade. Excelsior!
Wilhelm Stenhammar has never really had his due. Overshadowed by his Nordic contemporaries Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius, his productivity hampered by a hyper-self-criticality even more acute than his Finnish contemporary’s, when he finalised a work the result was superb, nowhere more so than the Serenade in F, an unalloyed joy from first note to last through five beautifully balanced and designed movements.
Admittedly, it did take him a while to get right. The idea originated in a visit to Florence in 1907 and the finished work perhaps describes the revelry and romance of a sleepless Florentine night. The Serenade was not ready until 1914, in six movements, opening and closing in E major. It was not a success and it was only in 1919 that the work found its final, F major, five-movement format (the discarded second movement, ‘Reverenza’, has been revived but not here; a shame as there is room). Lindberg and the Flemish musicians audibly relish its subtle construction in a performance rivalling both of Järvi’s, in top-notch sound.
The fillers round out the picture of Stenhammar for those unfamiliar with his music. The symphonic overture Excelsior! (1896) – which has only come into its own in the last 30 years – shows the young composer on the road towards the wonderful G minor Symphony. Lindberg is markedly slower than Järvi but compels attention. Stenhammar’s lyrical genius is illustrated by the Interlude from the substantial cantata Sången (1921), which he subtitled a ‘sinfonia vocale’. A marvellous disc which makes a fine introduction to a marvellous composer.