A virtuoso pianist and renowned conductor in his day, Wilhelm Stenhammar achieved early success with his magnificently wide-ranging and Brahmsian Piano Concerto No. 1. After many years of mixed fortunes as a composer he found his personal voice in the remarkable Piano Concerto No. 2. Conceived as a single span, this vividly affirmative romantic masterpiece was the wellspring for his Serenade (8.572186) and Symphony No. 2 (8.553888). Award-winning soloist Niklas Sivelöv has also recorded Stenhammars solo piano works (8.553730).
These wonderful recordings of Stenhammar's piano concertos make a superb introduction to his music, too much of which is unfamiliar outside his native Sweden. The Second Concerto (1908) is a masterpiece; the First (1894) isn't quite. Both try to negotiate between the perceived polarities of Liszt's and Wagner's experimental chromaticism on the one hand and Brahms's tempered romanticism on the other. While Stenhammar's colossal First Concerto expands on Brahms's symphonic technique, the tense, if extraordinarily beautiful Second uses Lisztian cyclic structures to constrain its complex material within a single musical span. Stenhammar specialist Niklas Sivelöv plays them in a no-holds-barred, high Romantic way, while the Malmö Symphony under Mario Venzago is tremendous. Some might prefer the harder edge and comparative detachment of Seta Tanyel with the Helsingborg Symphony and Andrew Manze on Hyperion. But it's hard not to be swept away by the Naxos disc, and the performance of the First Concerto is the finest I know. **** --Guardian.Thursday 10 November 2011
Niklas Sivelov negotiates the torrents of octaves and other rhetorical gestures with aplomb. --Gramophone,Feb'12