BIS Completes the Nystroem Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), to the extent his music is known at all, might excite vague familiarity for his tone poem Arctic Ocean. That work has moments that bear a certain similarity to the Sinfonia del mare (Sea Symphony): the pages of poignant stillness, and the long melodic lines that seem to float on the waves. Actually, this kind of writing is typical of Nystroem, and if it recalls the sea, so much the better. His Sea Symphony has five movements arranged as a perfectly symmetrical arch. At the center lies a song, a setting of a seriously philosophical poem called “The One Thing”.

Composed in 1947-48, this is a powerful work, and it’s beautifully played by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Christoph König. Mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman sings well enough at lower dynamic levels, but her voice is not particularly beautiful, and the tone spreads at high volume. She’s not bad, but hardly world class. Still, the music is more than strong enough not to suffer too seriously from a less than gorgeous soloist.

The Sinfonia breve (1929-31) is a single-movement span lasting about 20 minutes. The emphasis on counterpoint establishes Nystroem’s seriousness of purpose, and the work has a distinct ne0-classical feel—in the style of Hindemith or Honegger. The lyrical moments, however, are more traditionally melodic than with either of those composers, and the solemn ending (a broad string theme) is very striking. As with the Sinfonia del mare, the performance is very confident and projects the music with utter conviction. This extremely well engineered disc completes BIS’s survey of Nystroem’s six symphonies, and a fine one it has been. His music deserves far more attention than it has received, and this series should help redress the imbalance.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

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