Stockholm-born Wilhelm Stenhammar was the most outstanding musical personality in Sweden of his time. As a pianist he brought high-quality music-making to audiences throughout the country through several hundred solo recitals and chamber music concerts; as music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra he created Sweden’s first truly professional ensemble, persistently championing contemporary Scandinavian composers and introducing his audiences to numerous new works; and as a composer (like Elgar, largely self-taught) he created some of the most important and carefully crafted music ever to come out of Sweden, ranging from symphonic works and operas to chamber music and lieder. The start of Stenhammar’s career was in many ways that of an archetypal Romantic pianist-composer: even as a child he had already composed numerous pieces for piano, including three sonatas, the first dating from 1880.
Much of his piano music is firmly in the repertoire, including the extraordinary Nights of Late Summer—one of Stenhammar’s last works. The pastoral title and miniaturist structure belie the enormous emotional range of the piece. It is a deeply romantic exploration of moods of introspective gloom and wandering desolation. The five short movements make great demands on the pianist. The Three Fantasies Op 11 from 1895 have become the most frequently played of Stenhammar’s piano pieces. The musical language is more immediately communicative than in Stenhammar’s other piano works, something which has without doubt contributed to their popularity.
However, this disc also includes a complete rarity: the early Piano Sonata in G minor. This piece was never published, and was tracked down by Martin Sturfält in a handwritten copy from 1940 (used for all previous recordings) which contained a number of mistakes. Sturfält has edited the work for publication, and it is this version that has been recorded here.
This beautifully played disc is the perfect introduction to Sweden’s ‘national composer’.