From 19-year-old Wagnerian to mature tone-poet, the voice of a Swedish Romantic as glimpsed through his piano music.
Carl Stenhammar (1871-1927) trained as a pianist, and Brahms’s epic D minor Concerto held no fears for him. His writing for the instrument is accordingly bold and heroic from the outset, as his G minor Sonata from 1890 demonstrates. Held together by Wagnerian leitmotifs but often drawn into Schumannesque dreaming, the four-movement Sonata wears Austro-German passion on its sleeve, and Brahms continued to be a clear influence on Stenhammar’s piano writing in the three Fantasies Op.11 from 1895, but the harmonies are now clearer and more limpid, in the manner of Chopin but also singing with a more native Swedish or at least Nordic accent.
Still more Franco-Russian in idiom are the Three Small Pieces from the same year, in the spirit of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces and Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, each distilling Stenhammar’s individual melodic style within a minute or two. The high point of his solo piano output – as distinct from the mighty Second Piano Concerto which has found a place on the fringes of the Romantic repertoire – is reached with the Late Summer Nights Op.33, a five-movement cycle of concise tone-pictures which ventures into speculative harmonic realms like Fauré’s late Nocturnes, demanding the most refined of responses from the pianist.
The Italian pianist Paolo Scafarella is fast becoming a Stenhammar specialist. He has been engaged to record the concertos with the Orchestra Fondazione Biagio Abbate of the province BAT, and he performs in the major halls of his native country. This release marks his debut on Piano Classics.
Carl Wilhelm Stenhammar was born in Stockholm, Sweden, where he received his first musical education. He went to Berlin to further his studies, becoming a glowing admirer of German music, particularly that of Wagner and Bruckner. However, it is rather in Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms that we can trace the major influences of the young Stenhammar, who later broke away from the German model to impregnate himself with the music of his Swedish compatriots (starting with Berwald) and especially Sibelius and Nielsen.
Stenhammar was the finest Swedish pianist of his time and he wrote four sonatas and two concertos for his instrument. Rediscovered in 2008, the Sonata in G minor (1890) is the passionate, Schumannesque work of a nineteen-year-old full of romantic transport but already a master of the form. The three cycles of character pieces included in this recording (the 3 Fantasies Op.11, Nights of Late Summer Op.33 and Three Small Piano Pieces) show a distinctive musical voice, full of passion, lush harmonies and sensuality, evoking the mysteries of the Swedish countryside.
Italian pianist Paolo Scafarella (b. 1993) has taken up the cause of Stenhammar, planning to record the two piano concertos and the piano music of the Swedish master.