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Dag WIRÉN (1905-1986)
Sinfonietta Op. 7 (1933-34)
Cello Concerto Op. 10 (1936)
Romantic Suite from The Merchant of Venice Op. 22 (1943)
Symphony No. 3 Op. 20 (1943-44)
Mats Lidström (cello)
Sami Sinfonietta/Stefan Solyom
Recorded Studio 2, Radiohuset, Stockholm, February 2001


PO Swedish Music Information centre Box 27327; SE-102 54 Stockholm, Sweden

Iíd actually never seen a photograph of Wirén before receiving this for review. Here was a man whose most celebrated critical comment (and albatross around his neck) was his artistic credo beginning, with Biblical surety, I believe in Bach, Mozart, Nielsen and absolute musicÖIt is indeed remarkable against this background how his physiognomy resembles Nielsenís. If Wirén saw himself as Son to Nielsenís Father the physical resemblance is uncanny from the up and over quiff, tight lips, guarded eyes and prominent ears. Leaving aside such matters for a moment, this Phono Suecia disc traces Wirénís rather earlier self, from the Opp. 7 and 10 to the Third Symphony of 1943-44 and the Op. 22 Romantic Suite derived from The Merchant of Venice Ė by which point we are approaching the canonical Wirén.

The Sinfonietta was a leftover from an unsuccessful attempt at a youthful Symphony begun in Paris. It starts with genuinely motoric strength and has a second subject that is flooded with a beautifully wistful song that soon leads on to a brassily ceremonial section. The second movement is affectionate, full of plangency and Nordic mist, with a solo trumpet coursing evocatively and alone above the arching string line. Thereís incipient grandeur here and a power that Wirén cleverly never quite unleashes. The vista is embryonic Wirén and most impressive. Thereís a martial finale with plenty of perkiness as well as some pawky winds some sounding distinctly Sibelian. Off-beat pizzicati appear whilst triumphant percussion are cut short by the conclusion authoritatively carried off by the strings.

The Cello Concerto was composed in 1936 for Wirénís great friend Gustav Gröndahl, who gave the premiere in Stockholm three years later. It predates the famous Serenade by a year and is a short, sixteen-minute work cast in three movements. The first movement is imbued with a subtle march character, the solo cellist exploring his line with tenacious grit, the brass becoming more and more insistent. The movement becomes increasingly less discursively pliant as it develops. There are some moments of reverie and reprieve for the soloist. I was immediately struck by the slow central movement which starts with real nobility but is almost immediately cut abruptly short by a dramatic attacca subito episode. This is actually the direction of the second movement of the Sinfonietta but it applies equally Ė actually rather more accurately Ė to this work. The end of the movement is somewhat modal and also curiously and deftly antique in utterance, as if Wirén were evoking some fictive past. The Allegro conclusion is chirpy, melodic, full of expressive little orchestral moments and harmonic individuality. I suppose critics would point to the slow movement as being evidence of Wirénís relative brusqueness of melodic inspiration. I prefer to see it as a curious and distinctive approach to the concerto and to the function of the slow movement in particular.

The Romantic Suite from The Merchant of Venice dates from 1943 (and very lightly revised in 1961). He wrote quite a considerable amount of theatre music and these five, short movements attest to his idiomatic understanding of the medium. The opening is full of melancholy and its successors are rumbustious and jolly with overtones of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. The Third Symphony is the final and most impressive work here. It was written during the War, between 1943 and 1944 though constantly interrupted by Wirénís military service. Again this is in three conventional-appearing movements, fast-slow-fast. It is a compact, incisive work, free of extraneous and superficial matter. The first movement is thrustful, with deep brass driving forward with a definably baleful menace. The Adagio has a strong, sometimes yielding profile, but the lines are long. Critics who complain Wirén is short winded should listen. The harmonies are distinctive; the structure is tight, the atmosphere sometimes aloof though not cold. The finale, the longest of the three movements has a certain ambiguity at its heart. The orchestration is splendid, and thereís real elasticity in the writing, encompassing quicksilver changes of mood and emotive states. The reflective passage at 8.30 is one of those "Wirén moments," and the almost immediately eruptive Sibelian brass (I think of the Fifth Symphony here) and their effulgent, burnished confidence take the Symphony to the point of anticipatory triumph, a belief in the future. The cymbal clash that leads to increased elevated power ends the work in triumph.

Performances are strongly committed. Lidström is a soloist who marries technique with expressive insight and the Sami Sinfonietta and Stefan Solyom are accomplished exponents. No complaints about the sound quality or about the precision of the notes.

Jonathan Woolf

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