Vagn Holmboe: Chamber Symphonies
02 October 2012
The Whole Note
Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909–96) composed three chamber symphonies over the span of his career. Holmboe described his compositional approach as “metamorphosis technique,” a concept he developed from his close relationship with nature — the liner notes state he planted 3,000 trees himself over his lifetime! The subtle changes in say, for example, a blade of grass, did not go unnoticed by him. He expanded this metamorphosis idea into his music. Each symphony abounds with subtle tone colour shifts, while a short melodic (aka a blade of grass) idea will be transformed by instrumentation, harmony and rhythm.
Chamber Symphony No.1, Op.53 (1951) is the most “classical” sounding of the three. The music develops within a more traditional harmonic framework. In Chamber Symphony No.2, Op.100 “Elegy” (1968), the turmoil in the composer’s life appears as short ideas and motives. Still tonal, it is the independent instrumental lines that never quite coincide, and a dramatic and unexpected pause in the middle of the third movement that makes this the strongest work here. Chamber Symphony No.3, Op.103a “Frise” (1969–70) is a curious six movement work. Each movement seems like an independent score with the witty percussion part adding to the rhythmic vitality. The unexpected appears as a quiet tone at the work’s conclusion.
Conductor John Storgårds achieves a detailed and colourful performance with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. The string section especially is tireless in its execution of whirling lines and ensemble precision. A very enjoyable world premiere recording!