STENHAMMAR 3 Fantasies for Piano . Late Summer Nights. Sonata, Op. 12

Cassandra Wyss (pn) • CAPRICCIO C5117 (61:53)

Cassandra Wyss is a young pianist from Lichtenstein and, judging from the biography in the liner note to this CD, also a developing mezzo-soprano. And she is 19 years old! (Her website gives her repertoire as a singer and a pianist—and for Schubert’s Winterreise it indicates both!). I haven’t yet heard her sing, but if she sings as well as she plays the piano, she has an amazing future.

Wilhelm Stenhammar, probably familiar to many Fanfare readers, was a Swedish late Romantic composer (1871-1927) whose music does not deserve the neglect it has suffered from mainstream artists and record companies. His music has charm, grace, and elegance. It is marked by a very strong lyrical impulse and occasionally real power as well. Although he was influenced by Wagner and Bruckner (the scherzo of his G Minor Symphony has been aptly described as “Nordic Bruckner”), he balanced that influence with an essentially classical nature. Unlike some composers who never make it in from the fringes of the repertoire, Stenhammar possessed real inspiration—his music flows naturally and freely. The five-piece cycle Sensommarnätter ( Late Summer Nights ) deserves a place alongside piano works of Brahms, Chopin, and Liszt, at the center of the repertoire.

There are competing recordings of all this material. Lucia Negro’s three-volume cycle of the complete Stenhammar piano music on BIS is recommended for those who want it all. Her playing is warm and colorful. But Wyss brings a more natural flexibility and a wider range of keyboard colors to the music. Wyss’s lilt in the last of the Late Summer Nights cycle is infectious, and she finds a depth of emotion in the op. 12 Sonata that others don’t quite reach. She achieves this through a very carefully thought out, but natural, sense of dynamic shading. Wyss manages dynamics with great imagination and an ability to find many different variants between piano and forte . She also applies some very subtle rubato in a way that keeps the music alive. Finally, and where she does separate herself from her competition, she plays with a smile. Charm is a critical element of this music, and Wyss conveys that winningly.

This disc introduces a major new artist to us, while at the same time serving one of Sweden’s most important composers very well. Capriccio’s notes are abysmally translated into what sometimes becomes pidgin English. It is nice that they provide notes, and they are helpful ones; but why not hire a native English speaker to do the final stage of translation? Sentences like: “However, the make of the sonata is less dense and more classicistic” really won’t do. Nonetheless, this is recommended with enthusiasm. Henry Fogel