Vagn Holmboe: Kammersymfonier
01 October 2012
If you do not know them (and how would you? Only No 1 has even been broadcast in the UK—a fine account conducted by the late Richard Hickox in the early 1980s), Vagn Holmboe’s three Chamber Symphonies are superb encapsulations of his full-orchestral symphonic manner on a small scale. Holmboe confirmed to me once that they could be considered part of his main symphonic canon (unlike the Chairos sinfonias, which he felt used a quite different medium). The First was composed just before Sinfonia boreale (Symphony No 8, 1951-52), with which it shares an atmosphere of high endeavour. The grandeur Holmboe elicits from his small ensemble and basic thematic material is a lesson in compositional craft, the creation of a whole (considerably) greater than the sum of its parts. Long a favourite score of mine, John Storgårds and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra do it full justice.
They are equally on their mettle in Nos 2 (1968) and 3 (1969-70), contemporary with the Ninth and Tenth Symphonies. The Second’s title, Elegy, may, as annotator Jens Cornelius suggests, derive from Holmboe’s self-questioning after his resignation from teaching but its atmosphere—and length, at 29 minutes, the longest of the three—suggests deeper concerns. The Third, Frise (‘Frieze’) was written to mark the creation of a ceramic frieze in an Aalborg school; abstract in design, its musical argument (which he decanted into a miniature cantata profana) again compels attention across six concentrated movements that give the impression of expansiveness. Excellent performances, superb sound: you will not hear a finer disc this year.