Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Ari Rasilainen

Natanael Berg: Symphony No. 3; Reverenza; Suite from 'Hertiginnans friare''

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CPO's project of recording the symphonies and other orchestral works of Swedish composer Carl Natanael Berg is admirable, insofar as this obscure music is better heard than left silent, moldering in a library somewhere. Yet no one should expect that this series is a great discovery, for Berg's music is quite conservative in outlook and derivative in the most naïve ways of Richard Strauss and other late Romantic composers of greater imagination. The Symphony No. 3, "Makter" (Forces, 1917), started out as a tone poem on the favorite symbolist subjects of Man and Woman, and the stereotypical portrayal of these genders as spiritual forces -- the male as the doomed warrior and the female as the quiet inner strength that proves victorious -- may seem a bit laughable today, especially as depicted in clichéd fanfares and empty drama. But this kind of music was taken seriously by the musical establishment of Sweden at the time, and even regarded as daring in some quarters. The Symphony No. 3 is only one in name, though, for there is little thematic development as found in the traditional symphonic form, and Berg's looseness with material and form suggests that his original idea of a tone poem was only slightly modified. The ballet suite Hertiginnans friare (The Suitors of the Duchess, 1921) and the celebratory Reverenza (1949), composed for the occasion of a conductor's birthday, are melodious and innocuous, but neither is a major work that would cause a revival of Berg's music. Ari Rasilainen and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra play these works with commitment and obvious enjoyment, but that may be due more to feeling part of a cause in promoting Berg than to anything challenging or brilliant in the scores. This CD is valuable for documenting the works of an important figure in Swedish music, but the music itself is of limited interest.

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