Piano Sonata in G minor
Three Fantasies, Op.11
Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.12
Martin Sturfält (piano)
Recorded 15-17 April 2007 in St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2009
CD No: HYPERION CDA67689
Duration: 76 minutes
Although Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) was Swedish (he was born in Stockholm and his orchestral works have a translucence that one associates with Scandinavian composers), his piano music (as surveyed on this present collection) would be quite difficult to determine as to both nationality and time of composition (the sonatas might be considered from earlier than they are) if we were without prior knowledge.
The G minor Sonata (1890 and without opus number) is a mix of Liszt and Schumann, with occasional nods to Brahms; it is a very effective piece, the first movement both impulsive and lyrically reflective, the musical invention personal while being highly aware of Germanic influences (Stenhammar himself was a very fine pianist). Martin Sturfält, who also contributes an excellent booklet note, brings much drama and sensitivity to the first movement. The second is a touching ‘Romanza’. The scherzo has a Mendelssohnian nimbleness (while being more muscular) and the finale seems to owe even more to this composer. Whatever the influences, the end result is very attractive.
Also in four movements, the A flat Sonata (1895) is more distinctive in utterance, although Sturfält (in his note) feels that here the authority is Beethoven (specifically the piano sonatas Opuses 12 and 101). The moderately-paced opening movement does indeed seem to equate to Opus 101, and the succeeding scherzo can be heard as having Beethovenian force (while being more skittish). The brief slow movement certainly has depth and the finale (the longest movement) brings a sense of culmination that is very satisfying.
The sonatas are the bookends of this release. The central works – Nights of Late Summer and Three Fantasies – carry attractive suggestions, especially the former, with the Fantasies being more for display, not least the grand rhetoric of the first, and in the more elusive expression of the final one (Stenhammar cribbing a Brahmsian direction, Molto espressivo e con intimissimo sentimento).
But such references can be deceptive. Here they are meant to be no more than a guide, for the music is well worth getting to know on its own terms and has in Martin Sturfält a very dedicated and thoroughly equipped advocate. The recorded sound is a little bright and lightweight at times, although this may have more to do with the piano itself; either way such comment is but a tiny brickbat in the face of some eminently likeable music.