Ever bought a record just for the first track?

Ever bought a record just for the first track?


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2019

Swedes consider Stenhammar’s second to be their greatest-ever symphony. How far does it go beyond a brilliant opening movement?

Read the Lebrecht Album of the Week here.

And here.



  • Stuart L says:

    I am not familiar with Stenhammar’s 2nd Symphony but have loved his Serenade in F (the accompanying piece on the reviewed recording) ever since I first heard it fifty years ago. If one were to buy the recording then hearing the Serenade would certainly be a reason so to do and knock out the suggestion that the first movement of the Symphony is the only worthwhile music to be heard thereon.

    I’m also puzzled by the reviewer’s remark:

    ‘Swedes regard Stenhammar’s 2nd, dated 1914, as their best symphony after Sibelius and some have argued the case with me alcoholically far into the unbroken winter’s night.’

    which seems to suggest that Swedes consider Sibelius to be one of their own; I wonder what the good folk of Finland think of that.

    For my money Stenhammar’s Serenade in F is a master work and well worth a hearing.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Absolutely! For me, aged 13, the Heliodor LP of Stenhammar’s Serenade, (Stockholm P.O./Kubelik), “made the Earth move,” and it remains my favorite orchestral work, close to my heart. Admittedly, less committed performances can disappoint, (avoid Neeeme Jarvi!). The 2nd symph is less of a total success, but i have them both on a swedish issued CD, (Symph/Tor Mann, Serenade/Kubelik), and it stays in the car for luvly listening on medium journeys.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    “Swedes regard Stenhammar’s 2nd, dated 1914, as their best symphony after Sibelius”

    Sibelius was a Swede?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Many Swedes think so. He was a Swedish-speaking Finn.

      • Gunnar Brothsson says:

        No swede I know (including myself) within the classical music field or elsewhere regards Sibelius as Swedish. This is just plain wrong. Yes Finland was a part of Sweden for some time and therefore Sibelius and many others have Swedish as their first language but that’s it. The Finnish culture and music is different from the Swedish and in Sibelius one hears that. Sibelius also wrote a couple of very patriotic and Finnish pieces (Finlandia or Svensklandia?). With the same logic Sousa or Bernstein are absolutely British.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Agree. Sibelius’s insistence on speaking Swedish in public contexts in Finland was a bit embarrassing.

        • Jean says:

          It depended a bit on the decade: during the 1890s he preferred to write only in Finnish in his letters with his future wife and not to use Swedish. But in 1935 he was shocked when people started changing their family names back into their original Finnish forms. Some people’s opinions change through time…

  • Paul Carlile says:

    The excerpts sound excellent. I’d buy the allbum for the Serenade alone, an amazing masterpiece. Shame the reviewer missed out there, and shot himself in the foot with the “Sibelius-the-Swede” gaffe!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Both Stenhammer symphonies are worth playing and hearing and would be a most welcome respite from endless replays of symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Mahler…And Sibelius. Throw in some Atterberg, too!

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    The Stenhammar Serenade is one of the great orchestral masterpieces of the 20th century.

  • Jean says:

    Sweden has had a lack of great symphonists (my emphasis on the word ‘great’) before Allan Pettersson, so a Swedish-speaker was fine for them.

    Earlier, Sweden had already accepted B. H. Crusell who was born in Finland and, e.g., wrote his travel diaries in Finnish (and who also wrote in a letter late in his life in the 1830s: “I am also a Finn guy”).

    The ‘father of Swedish music’, J. H. Roman – he was of Finnish origin, and probably because of this his final will was that his scores were to be donated to a library in Finland – and not to Stockholm.

    One of the early Swedish symphonists Oscar Byström, Berwald’s friend, – he lived some of his active years in Finland, and his father, Thomas Byström, was a Finnish composer.

    Point is: Throughout the centuries the cultural exchange between the neighbouring countries has been quite deep. Partly because for centuries they actually formed one country.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    No love for Alfvén?

  • Nydo says:

    I’m not incredibly impressed with the 2nd Symphony on a whole, either, though it is still nice to hear it, and it does have some redeeming qualities. The Serenade, on the other hand, is a very interesting piece. I’m surprised that you pretty much dismissed it. This particular recording is a very good one.