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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ingvar LIDHOLM (1921 - )

Orchestra Works 1963 - 1998
Poesis per orchestra (1963) (a,b)
Greetings from an Old World (1976) (c)
stund, när ditt inre (hour, when your soul) (1998) (d)
Kontakion (1978) (e,f)
Gunnar Idenstam (Piano) (a)
Björn Malmqvist (Double Bass) (b)
Niklaas Veltman (Cello) (c)
Peter Mattei (Baritone) (d)
Odin Hagen (Trumpet) (e)
Eva Pettersson-Veltman (Bassoon) (f)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Lü Jia
Recorded April 2002, May 2000, November 2001- Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden
BIS BIS-CD-1240 [70.28]


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The Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm has a very strong CV, taking in periods of study in France, Switzerland and Italy, courses in Darmstadt, professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and membership of the ISCM Presidium. He does not seem to have been a prolific composer and this CD is the first of a proposed series by BIS featuring Lidholm's orchestral works. He is evidently fond of single movements works and all the pieces on this record are in this form. The pieces span 35 years of Lidholm's working life and form a good introduction to his music.

The first piece, 'Poesis' was first performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt in 1964 and was commissioned for the orchestra's fiftieth jubilee. A recording made at the concert went on to win the Koussevitzky International Recording Award for 1965. The title means 'making poetry' and the piece has some points in common with Lidholm's cantata 'Night of the Poet'. It evidently caused some consternation at its first performance, with the theatrically free cadenzas for piano and a grotesquely pathetic double bass solo. An avant garde piece, it is full of 'new music': clusters, unconventional playing methods, emphasis on sound, rhythm and dynamics. It starts very, very quietly with a couple of sand-blocks and shimmering high strings, almost like someone starting to draw breath. The music gradually unfolds, juxtaposing short bursts of sound. The piano is very prominent, providing background textures and splashy cadenzas. At times this seems like DIY modern music, throwing in every sonic cliché, as if the orchestra was undertaking a guided improvisation rather than a controlled, structured piece. Finally a single pitch is held for over a minute by different instruments, varying in intensity from very quiet to very loud. The composer stated that he does not know what the piece is about, but in fact one of the inspirations behind the piece is Samuel Beckett's play 'Words and Music'. Once the piano enters (about a third of the way through the piece), you cannot help but feel that underlying everything is some sort of unwritten dramatic dialogue.

Twelve years elapsed before Lidholm produced another orchestral piece. The second piece on the record, 'Greetings from an Old World' was written in 1976 in response to a commission from the Clarion Music Society's chamber orchestra in New York to celebrate the bi-centenary of the USA. The piece uses a classical sized orchestra, with the addition of piano and vibraphone. One of the ingredients in the piece is the melancholy song 'Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen' by the 15th century Dutch composer Heinrich Isaac. The text of the song deals with breaking up from a place, with waiting and with departing. The departure has been forced upon the poet and he longs to return. The piece has the same rather spare structure as 'Poesis'. Again it is constructed from multiple, rather short, events. But it coheres structurally because the disparate elements are held together by the germs of music from the Isaac piece. Written in one movement, with a number of sections, fragments of the melody are presented tantalisingly and sometimes hidden. Towards the end the song occurs in its entirety. At one point the music becomes highly charged and dissolves into a lyrical solo on the cello.

The third piece on the disc, 'stund, när ditt inre' (hour, when your soul), is the most recent, a setting of a text by the romantic poet Erik Johan Stagnelius for baritone and symphony orchestra. The title is taken from the first line of the poem ('Friend!, In this desolate hour, when your soul is bathed in darkness). The poem concludes with the lines 'Night is the mother of day, Chaos is next to God' and the composer states that he has always had an attraction for 'this rather mad line in Swedish literature' (his opera based on Strindberg's 'Dream Play' was given its first performance in 1992). 'stund, när ditt inre' attempts to conjure up the feelings of a person in deep crisis and the hope that ultimately returns. The solo baritone (a strong Peter Mattei) is prominent throughout, singing a dramatic declamation. Around this rather stark, plain vocal part, the composer weaves a web of more melodic material, sometimes dense and sometimes surprisingly spare. The result is a sombre, bleak work and Lidholm’s angular melodic style is very suited to the poem’s atmosphere.

The final work on the disk forms a parallel with 'Greetings from an Old World' It was commissioned by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for a tour of the Soviet union and uses a hymn from the Russian Orthodox tradition. A 'kontakion' is an ancient Russian liturgical song for a particular day of the year. The one uses here is a hymn for the dead and the melody was used by Benjamin Britten in his 'Third Cello Suite'. The work is a sober one, inevitably in view of the material on which it is based. But it is full of contrasts between loud and soft, high and low pitches - a bassoon solo explores both the upper and lower reaches of the instrument’s range. The music concludes with a haunting trumpet solo, played offstage.

Though Lidholm's later pieces evince more of an interest in structure, a common thread running through all of them is an interest in timbres and colours, offsetting one against another, contrasting short events of differing volumes. Though his music can be loud (and the disc has a very wide dynamic range), the overall feeling is of a surprising sense of spareness. Lidholm rarely seems to over-score, achieving his effects with often just one or two orchestral lines.

The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1912 and is one of Sweden's 7 professional orchestras. They play the music admirably, and only occasionally do you wonder what the music would sound like played by a more virtuosic orchestra. The long held note at the end of 'Poesis', for instance, suffers from some wavering of pitch. Their principal conductor, Lü Jia, a talented young Asian who is now resident in Italy.

This disk is the beginning of a promised series devoted to Lidholm's orchestral music, and Lidholm has supported the making of the disc, so the performances must have his imprimatur. The excellent booklet does not explain what was the basis for selecting these orchestral pieces. So I am unclear as to whether I am listening to a representative selection of his pieces or his best pieces (however that is defined). Still, Lidholm inhabits a fascinating sound-world and I await the future releases with interest.

Robert Hugill

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