Replay

Robert Cowan reviews two of the latest reissues; Frank Martin: Orchestral and choral works Various artists (Recorded: 1951- 1963) (Decca 448 264-2; two discs); Franz Berwald: Symphonies Nos 1-4 Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Jarvi (Recorded: 1985) (DG 445 581-2; two discs)
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Music of the spirit touched with a certain grim humour - transparently scored, occasionally luxuriant and with a pungent flavour all of its own. Martin's greatest advocate was Ernest Ansermet and it's fitting that most of these superbly transferred recordings feature Ansermet's idiomatic interpretations.

The one exception is the intense, 12-minute Passacaille, originally an organ work, then recast for strings (as heard here) and eventually paraded in full orchestral dress. There Karl Munchinger conducts the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, but when it comes to the tangy Petite Symphonie Concertante for harp, harpsichord, piano and string orchestra (where hints of jazz spice an elegant neo-Classicism), the restless Concerto for seven wind instruments, timpani, percussion and string orchestra and the Etudes for Orchestra, Ansermet and his L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande provide truthful though heartfelt interpretations. As indeed they do in the rarely heard Violin Concerto, where Wolfgang Schneiderhan wrestles with a lyrical score that flirts with dodecaphony.

Perhaps the best "hopping on" point, however, is Martin's end-of-the- war oratorio In terra pax, a memorable work set to a Biblical concoction of the composer's own making and including a particularly noble setting of "The Lord's Prayer". Try that first (it's on track 13), then go for the highly inventive Petite Symphonie (a 1951 recording). The essence of Martin lies somewhere in between.

If it sounds a little like Schubert and a little like Mendelssohn, with Dvorak, Beethoven and a pinch of Nielsen added for flavouring, then it's bound to be by Sweden's best-kept musical secret, Franz Berwald.

Berwald's symphonies confound expectations at virtually every bar: you think you're on safe ground, then suddenly there's an unexpected change of key or a novel shift in rhythmic emphasis. Three of the four symphonies carry titles, the Third - and possibly the greatest - being known as Sinfonie singuliere.

The opening is like a musical sunrise, while the Adagio (the second of three movements) opens to powerfully atmospheric high string writing. Berwald's sense of fun is confirmed with a vigorous, off-beat finale, while the Dvorakian axis registers for the first movement of the Second Symphony, or Sinfonie capricieuse, and there's a hint of Berlioz at the start of the Fourth.

And to think that Berwald was born a year before Schubert (1796) and that, in addition to writing innovatory symphonic scores, he founded an orthopaedic institute and invented apparatuses for the treatment of patients. All this from a man who had next to no formal education!

As to these performances, Jarvi and his players are heard in full cry, while the digital recordings - which have been specially re-mastered for this release - sound as good as new.

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