What's the greatest Swedish symphony ever written? Kraus' Sinfonie funebre in C minor? Berwald's Sinfonie singuliere in C major? Gade's First in C minor? Alfven's Fourth in C minor? Atterberg's Sixth in C major? Pettersson's Sixth in no key known to man? Perhaps -- or perhaps the greatest Swedish symphony is Stenhammar's Second in G minor. Strong and stark with bright colors, clean lines, forceful rhythms, and an inexorable sense of its own inevitability, Stenhammar's Second arguably deserves to rise above the rest of Sweden's undeniably great symphonies to stand with those of the greatest northern European fin de siècle symphonists -- those of Nielsen and Sibelius.
Too bad the same can't be said of Stenhammar's piano music. Much of it is early and much of it is light, and thankfully this recital by Staffan Scheja contains by far the best of the rest. With a commanding technique, a sure feel for the late Romantic idiom, and a pronounced disinclination to yield to long, lyrical themes without a struggle, Scheja makes a very convincing case for the music here. The opening five-movement suite Late Summer Nights is shimmering and seductive in his hands, and the closing four-movement G minor Piano Sonata is muscular and rigorous. Even in Scheja's sensitive hands, however, the central Three Fantasies sound a bit too pushy and a tad too emotive. For listeners who already know and love Stenhammar's Second Symphony and who have already sought out and heard his First Symphony, his serenade, his piano concertos, his string quartets, and his symphonic cantata The Song, this disc of piano music may be next on the list. Altara's sound is clear, but slightly harsh.