This disc, issued by the Swedish label Altfion i Väst, focuses on a composer whose music is almost forgotten, despite its attractiveness and cogent structure. Knut Håkanson (1887-1929) is somewhat of an outsider in Swedish music. The reasons for this are many, but his penchant to seek new ways of expression at a time of transition from late Romanticism and Neo-Classicism, and having to compete with such contemporary Nordic greats such as Sibelius and Nielsen, may have been the main ones.
When Knut was just over a year old, his father died, bequeathing him a fortune, but also a kidney ailment which eventually shortened his life. After the father's demise, mother Agda and son went to live in Stockholm, where he learned to play the fiddle and had his first taste of folk-music, a genre that was to dominate his artistic career, which was sadly punctuated by several bitter experiences. Fellow young composers envied him because he studied privately and was born wealthy, and after the First World War the financial crisis and depression that followed cost Håkanson his fortune, forcing him to almost beg for employment. After moving to Helsingborg in 1925, the composer had to endure the harrowing pains of his wife's infidelity and subsequent divorce, and the kidney complaint which he had inherited from his father. Due to the latter he was subjected to long periods of hospitalization and mental torture, which nonetheless did not deter him from writing some of his most significant works. Håkanson spent the last two years of his life in Gothenburg, attaining fame as an established music reviewer and columnist.
In November 1929 he staged a highly successful concert of his own works, but by then his health had deteriorated badly, and he knew his days were numbered. He died, following an unsuccessful kidney operation, on 13th December 1929, aged only 42.
This mostly neglected Swedish composer was a man with many musical faces – composer, pianist, viola player, conductor and more; writer, teacher and educator. His piano output shows a distinct advancement from a Nordic Romantic style interspersed with the occasional hints of Expressionism to an increasingly Neo-Classical and polyphonic idiom. Poetry and fiction were always a lifelong interest of Håkanson's, and he considered the Lied an important part of his output. He composed some one hundred songs, many of which were admired and frequently performed in their day. Indeed, the legendary Kirsten Flagstad had several of them in her repertoire.
This really fine issue highlights the best of both these fascinating and alluring worlds, on which the composer spent much time and effort. Both soloist and singer are stylish and sympathetic champions of these rare but wholly beautiful pieces and their committed and perceptive performances are a revelation throughout. This is a top-notch generously filled disc that should be snapped up unhesitatingly.
Copyright © 2012, Gerald Fenech