Vagn Holmboe: Concertos
16 April 2013
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
Two and a Half Glorious World Premiere Holmboe Concertos
Let’s not mince words. This is a great disc. The “half” concerto refers to the very early (1929) Concerto for Orchestra, a single movement only thirteen minutes long that has moments, such as the polyphonic string passage about eight minutes in, that come straight from Nielsen, and others that hint at the more personal music to come. It’s an enjoyable work, full of variety and contrast, as well as some captivating ideas, and it’s very well played–although there’s nothing especially concerto-like about it.
Now for the fun stuff. Homboe’s Viola Concerto is just sensational. Composed in 1992 for Israeli violist Rivka Golani, the thematic ideas have a distinctive, Eastern European flavor (Holmboe studied Slavic music and his wife was Romanian). What makes the piece so distinctive, however, is that most Viola Concertos, even the good ones, have an elegiac tone that supposedly reflects the dusky timbre of the instrument. Not here. This work is fresh, rustic, energetically rhythmic, and wholly delightful. The piece also has an interesting form: a heavily accented opening allegro, followed by a scherzo (sound sample), slow movement, and finale all combined into a single movement. Lars Anders Tomter is the excellent soloist. This is one of those pieces you’ll play once, and then immediately want to hear again.
The Violin Concerto No. 2 (1979) is scarcely less fine. Once again there’s a distinctly “Eastern” flavor to some of the tunes, but the scope is larger: a traditional fast-slow-fast form lasting about twenty five minutes as compared to the Viola Concerto’s twenty one. Holmboe’s central Adagio affettuoso begins with one of the most lovely melodies that he ever wrote. Graceful, fluent, and full of fantasy, this is a piece that deserves to enter the repertoire. The dance-like finale ends with an unforgettable sound in which music of lightness and vigor leaves behind a final chiming chord, like a smile.
The soloist in the Violin Concerto, Erik Heide, has a sweet tone, fine sense of rhythm, and gratifyingly accurate intonation. Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk accompanies with both spirit and sympathy, and the high level SACD recording perfectly captures the music’s brilliant, lyrical, and positive qualities. It has real impact. Discs like this, full of music that’s modern but approachable, immaculately crafted and humane, only reinforce Holmboe’s claim to be regarded as one of the major voices in 20th century music.