Britta Byström: Letter in April. Athelas Sinfonietta. © 2023 Dacapo Records

CD Spotlight

New and Refreshing

GEOFF PEARCE is impressed by the music of contemporary Swedish composer Britta Byström

'There is a sincerity about this music that speaks directly to the soul.'


Britta Byström - born Sweden, 1977 - is not a composer that was familiar to me before hearing this recording. The four works presented on this disc date from 2011-2020 and are premiere recordings. Whilst she is often described as being a minimalist composer, I think that does her music injustice as I find her music a lot more interesting than many minimalist composers that I have heard, and whilst she uses minimalist elements, her music is both melodically and texturally very interesting and engaging.

The first work, Letter in April (2011), is for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The composer states that this work was influenced by the music of Messiaen, and there certainly are passages that remind one of the Quartet for the End of Time. It is an approachable work and makes very interesting listening, firstly because the music is approachable, but also because of the skill of the performers. The notes in the booklet that come with this recording are detailed and clear, and give the listener all the information they would need to know about this work.

Listen — Byström: Letter in April
(8.226724 track 1, 6:30-7:15) ℗ 2023 Dacapo Records :

Baum in der Stadt (2014) for solo violin is a work of nearly eight minutes in duration. The work is built from a five note motif heard at the beginning of the work. Reading the notes, and seeing the music described in such a way, one may expect a repetitive or dry work, but anything is further from the truth. The contrast between plucked and bowed sounds, often cleverly intermingled, makes for a very rewarding listening experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this work. Again the performer gives an insightful and compelling account of this piece.

Listen — Byström: Baum in der Stadt
(8.226724 track 2, 4:25-5:02) ℗ 2023 Dacapo Records :

Images from the Floating World for String Quartet (2019) in six short movements takes around fifteen minutes to perform. Its source of inspiration is an Icelandic story known as the Njals Saga, in which a man and most of his family are burned alive in their hut, and the surviving nephew swears revenge, but instead is persuaded to take part in an epic trial, upon the completion of which, the culprits are sent to exile. Again, the attached booklet gives a very good account of the structure of the movements, but all that aside, it is an interesting work to listen to, both rhythmically and texturally, and the melodic component is always approachable. I especially liked the rhythm and melodic construction of the second movement.

Listen — Byström: Ritmico (Images from the Floating World)
(8.226724 track 4, 1:20-1:58) ℗ 2023 Dacapo Records :

Listening to the work as a whole, I enjoyed it, with its melodic snatches and rhythmic and textural structures. The fourth movement, 'Grazioso', is particularly beautiful.

Listen — Byström: Grazioso (Images from the Floating World)
(8.226724 track 6, 0:55-1:39) ℗ 2023 Dacapo Records :

The final work, Figures at the Seaside, is a concerto for cello and seven wind or string players in one movement. It also has prominent percussion and piano parts. It was written in 2020 as a commission by the soloist on this recording, Maria Isabel Edlund, as a graduation work, but was unable to be performed then because of COVID restrictions. It is a substantial work of about twenty-three minutes and draws inspiration from Edlund's performance style, Bach's Prelude No 12 from The Well Tempered Clavier Book 2, and a Picasso painting from which the work draws it's title. There are interesting points about how the ensemble is used as a transport medium, rather like the 'Promenade' is used in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I fell in love with this work for its beauty, delicacy and haunting effects, and there is variety and invention at every turn. I do hope that this piece is performed often as it is such a true gem.

Listen — Byström: Figures at the Seaside
(8.226724 track 9, 16:31-17:29) ℗ 2023 Dacapo Records :

There is everything to love about this CD: the composer is new and refreshing, and I cannot sing her praises highly enough, the performances, both the solo work as well as the ensemble playing was first class in every respect, the programme notes are informative and to the point, and the recorded sound has a warmth and clarity that one often does not find. I hope to hear a lot more of Britta Byström's music as it is attractive, innovatory and truly creative. There is a sincerity about this music that speaks directly to the soul.

Copyright © 8 April 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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