Schnelzer: A Freak in Burbank / Gringolts, Crawford-Phillips, Västerås Sinfonietta

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Born in 1972, Albert Schnelzer belongs to the most widely noticed Scandinavian composers of his generation. He has written in all genres, and the present album includes a concerto as well as both orchestral and chamber works. Schnelzer’s orchestral output has attracted great attention, with A Freak in Burbank belonging to his most often heard works. Inspired by Haydn as well as by the filmmaker Tim Burton, it has been played more than 70 times to date, in venues such as the Berlin Philharmonie, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Royal Albert Hall. It here appears on album for the first time, performed by the Västerås Sinfonietta conducted by Simon Crawford-Phillips. The same team has also made the premiere recordings of two other works: Burn My Letters – a commission for Clara Schumann’s 200th anniversary – and the violin concerto ‘Nocturnal Songs’, composed for Ilya Gringolts. Interspersed with these are three chamber works – Dance with the Devil, Apollonian Dances and Frozen Landscape – performed by some of Sweden’s foremost instrumentalists.


A Freak in Burbank is an exciting and vivid work, full of insistent rhythms, quixotic harmonies, and colorful orchestration. There is a capricious spirit in it that grabs the attention of the listener, much as, for example, Haydn’s music does.

Dance with the Devil is for solo piano, and also grabs the attention of the listener from its very first notes. The opening, in fact, is cut from the same musical cloth as is Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro, and like that seminal work Dance never lets up in its energy level. The notes aver that the piece is influenced by heavy metal music.

Burn My Letters—Remembering Clara is scored for chamber orchestra and depicts in music the voluminous correspondence between Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. In this rather neo-Romantic work, the composer has attempted to capture something of the energy and lust for life of Clara Schumann, in addition to representing the hectic life she lived as a touring pianist. In this work, he has attempted to assimilate (successfully, I think) the frankness in which Schumann writes about her doubts, fears, and sorrows. Despite such heavy concepts, the piece has a lightness and airy quality about it that I find most attractive.

The program turns back to the realm of chamber music with Apollonian Dances for violin and piano. Violinist Cecilia Zilliacus and pianist David Huang are both clearly masters of their respective instruments, and the work simply couldn’t be in better hands.

 Frozen Landscape remembers a vivid experience from Schnelzer’s youth when he was up in the mountains of northern Sweden. This piece’s unrelenting quiet dynamic level sustains interest throughout its seven-and-a-half-minute duration. Both cellist Jakob Koranyi and pianist Huang pull off exquisitely what must be a difficult work to bring across.

The concert concludes with Schnelzer’s Violin Concerto No. 2, “Nocturnal Songs,” a 25-minute work from 2018.

The work was written for violinist Ilya Gringolts, who performs it at the highest level here, even the finger-busting finale. First-class orchestral support is supplied in the pieces that require it by Simon Crawford-Phillips and the Västerås Sinfonietta, an ensemble of which I’ve been previously unaware but glad to have become acquainted with.

This CD is splendid in every parameter, and I am truly delighted to become familiar with the work of such a talented member of the newer generation of Swedish composers.

-- Fanfare

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 04, 2022

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2483

  • UPC: 7318599924830

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Contemporary

  • Composer: Albert Schnelzer

  • Conductor: Simon Crawford-Phillips

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Västerås Sinfonietta

  • Performer: Ilya Gringolts