FOREIGN orchestras are welcome guests in London, and the more
so when they bring music which is unfamiliar to us. The Stockholm Philharmonic celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, and has had the benefit in past years of conductors whose qualities have won them world-wide reputation—Vaclav Talich and Fritz Busch, who between them directed the orchestra from 1926 to 1942. Their present conductor is Carl Garaguly, who has been in charge of the two concerts given at the Festival Hall. I missed the first, when a piano concerto by Stenhammar was in the programme, but was present when Gosta Nystroem's Sea Symphony was given and Hans Leygraf played Mozart's D minor piano concerto.
Nystroem is a contemporary of Sir Arthur Bliss, and his Sinfonia del Mare, dating from 1949, 'has certain points of resemblance to Bliss's music. It is pictorial and dramatic in character, fundamentally late-romantic in idiom, and its single movement encloses a soprano solo, the setting of a marine love,poem by Ebba Lindquist. The " wave-movement " which (according to the programme-note) provides the fundamental idea of the symphony, takes the form of ostinato rhythms and the repetition on a large scale of thematic material, none of it quite strong enough to stand this difficult test. Formally the work is simple—slow introduction, allegro ; song (slow movement) ; recapitulation, with variants, of the allegro, and return to the slow introduction. It was, I think, an error of aesthetic judgement to repeat the unmistakable storm-sequence of the allegro, for orchestral storms are too easy to conjure up, and one is quite enough for. any work. The most attractive feature of this Sea Symphony was the delicate and original scoring of the quieter passages; the pointing of a phrase by piano and harp in unison was particularly successful.
Like Don Giovanni, Mozart's D minor piano concerto has divided Mozartians into daemonists and eudaimonists, and the only way to avoid choosing between a distinctly tragic and a merely dramatic handling of the first movement (both of which can be defended) is virtually to renounce all interpretation ; and this was apparently the course agreed upon by conductor and soloist. This very renunciation is, of course, a negative form of interpretation, a return to the once fashionable view of Mozart as consummate note-spinner and handler of academic forms and nothing more. The playing, both of the orchestra and the soloist, was clean and colourless ; contrasts of tone-colour and dynamics were reduced to a minimum, and, as it seemed to me, an academic greyness was over all. Is this the way the Swedes like their Mozart and, if so, what did they make of Fritz Busch ? Or was this a " safety first " performance before an unknown audience ? Verdi's Requiem, given by the London Philharmonic Choir Orchestra under de Sabata, was certainly no " safety first " formance. With a few more rehearsals, I suspect, it might have quite outstandingly good, and what it lacked was absolute certain and poise, in the pppp passages especially, rather than any quail of interpretation. That it lacked outstanding soloists is all unfortunately, true. The Festival Hall is not kind to singe Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's voice seemed lamentably small and lacki in emotional expressiveness, though her singing was always safe her taste good. Eugenia Zareska, though she found Verdi's lo phrases a strain on her breathing, phrased well, and the diffic octaves of the Agnus Dei did great credit to both singers. Jam Johnston seemed to show insufficient acquaintance with the mus of the tenor solo part, but Norman Walker, in his unmistakab oratorio manner, sang with real knowledge and understanding.