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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  CD

Catalogue Number:  8.226017-18

Barcode:  636943601723

Release Date:  Apr 2004

Period:  Early 20th Century

Review


Vagn Holmboe: Sinfonias I-IV

04 July 2004  Classics Today (10/10)
David Hurwitz

rating

Between 1957 and 1962 Vagn Holmboe wrote three Sinfonias for string orchestra. The first three are single-movement, multi-sectional works, while the fourth has four movements--a prelude, two interludes, and a postlude. This last can be broken up and dispersed among the other three pieces in the order: Prelude-Sinfonia I-Interlude 1-Sinfonia II-Interlude 2-Sinfonia III-Postlude. When performed this way the whole shebang is called Chairos and lasts some 56 minutes, making it a very extensive piece indeed. Dacapo thoughtfully gives us two discs for the price of one, so we can hear the music either as four independent works or as Chairos.

This may sound confusing, but despite the acceptability of hearing everything separately, the composite arrangement is extremely successful and certainly is the preferred way of listening if you want to hear all of the music at a single sitting. Sinfonia IV's short movements, with their parts for solo violin and cello, contrast perfectly with the three longer pieces. Sinfonias I and III last about 10 minutes each, while the central Sinfonia II is double their length, making Chairos a perfectly balanced piece in a sort of Bartók-like arch form.

Holmboe takes great care throughout these pieces to vary the string textures in order to prevent timbral monotony from setting in, and there's also plenty of contrast in tempo and rhythm. Harmonically this music pays obvious homage to the composer's study of Romanian folk music, with frequent modal inflections--but the open, diaphanous textures and springy counterpoint, alongside the free use of dissonance, marks this out as vintage Holmboe. You will not come away humming the tunes here, but much of the writing is quite beautiful and more importantly, always purposeful.

The Danish Radio Sinfonietta under Hannu Koivula plays with the sort of commitment that we should expect from compatriots of the composer, with crisp ensemble, excellent tuning, and phrasing that gives direction to the composer's long, airy, sinewy textures. The music also is beautifully recorded, warmly and naturally. Without question this is a major addition to the Holmboe discography and further testimony to a composer whose standards of craftsmanship were simply second to none.



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